Date: February 4, 2007
Byline: Harris Blackwood
Flag Flying 101: Rules for flying flag not easily understood
The question of right and wrong regarding the U.S. flag is not easily answered.
Whitney Smith, an expert on flags, says part of the problem lies in the U.S. Flag Code, which is virtually unchanged in 80 years.
"The code was not entirely well written in 1923 and the world has changed enormously," said Smith, who is a vexillogist, a person who studies flags, in Winchester, Mass.
"There have only been two or three changes in all of those years," he said.
Smith, director of the Flag Research Center, said displays of foreign flags in the U.S. is often a point of contention.
"A lot of people get bent out of shape when any national flag is flown that is not the U.S. flag. But legally, you have the right to fly any flag you want," Smith said.
He said Canadians who spend the winters in Florida often display that nation's maple leaf flag to the chagrin of their Floridian neighbors.
"They own homes and pay taxes there and put money into the local economy and they fly both the U.S. and Canadian flags and there are people who try to tell them they can't," Smith said.
He said displays, such as the controversial display of international flags at Gainesville High School, are not unusual.
"It's very common to have that sort of thing around the country to honor all the nationalities," Smith said.
But James J. Ferrigan, curator of The Flag Center in Reno, Nev., said the recent addition of a larger flag and pole for the U.S. flag is in violation of the flag code.
"That's not the recommended protocol," said Ferrigan. "The flag poles should all be the same with the U.S. flag in front and the others displayed in alphabetical English."
He said the U.S. flag is found in different order in foreign countries.
"Appropriate flag displays are in English here, however in France, for example, our flag ends up in the e's because we are Etats Unis. In some places we are called America and we end up in the A's."
Ferrigan said that during time of mourning, such as the recent death of former President Gerald R. Ford, the foreign flags could have been lowered to half-staff.
"If they (the foreign flags) are guests in our country and they are not at UN headquarters, then they can come down because they are observing our protocol and those flags fly at our pleasure," Ferrigan said. "It's a call by the prevailing executive authority, which in the case of a school would be the principal."
Smith said that pride in one's native land should be acceptable in the United States.
"I find it outrageous that people think the liberty we have in the country would not include making a statement about nation of origin," he said. "The irony is that we have built our whole country on immigrants.
The U.S. flag code, while an official federal regulation, has no penalty for violations. The code includes the proper method of display and includes such details as who is entitled to have a flag-draped coffin and how the flag should be displayed in a place of worship.
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