While there is no greater symbol of freedom world-wide than “Old Glory,” the authors believe that its patriotic display is only mildly more inconvenient, but far more reverent and appropriate, if done compliant with federal law and consistent with the Rules of Flag Etiquette.
In keeping with the sanctity of our national standard, it is not to be trifled with at the end of its usefulness. Take one of the observations of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; the greatest victories for freedom cannot be celebrated without solemn and reverent thought being given to their costs. So too, as the emblem of our freedom, the flag is not deserving of respect and admiration during its useful life, only to be cast aside and thoughtlessly discarded when that useful life is over. This is to say a flag, no matter how beaten, battered and useless, is never mere “trash.”
“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Flag Code, Section 8(k).
It you do not have the time or facilities to properly dispose of a flag of the United State of America (meaning its dignified destruction, not its mindless discard), please seek out those who do. Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day. You may also contact Boy Scout Troops in your area to do the same. Granted, this sign of respect may take time you don’t have, but the freedom the flag of the United States of America memorializes is a tribute to those who gave their lives for you to fly your flag. While flying the flag alone may provoke pride, it is the more general responsibility to the flag as an anthem, for all that it stands, that symbolizes your respect for all that we have as citizens of the United States of America.
Question: I live in a city, and cannot burn anything (much less a flag) consistent with the laws of my municipality. What do I do?
Answer: The retirement of a flag of the United States of America is a solemn and reflective event. It’s easy to buy a flag, and we would encourage you to accept responsibility for having done so, and retire it by destruction, the way it should be retired. A fireplace, a barbeque, a picnic area or nearby campsite can provide the venue for this occasion, and a terribly worthwhile and reverent event for family and friends. If you cannot or choose not to dispose of the flag properly, out of respect for those who gave you the right to make that choice, seek out someone who will. A phone call or a chat with a neighbor asking assistance…that’s not too much to ask.
Authors Ross Simmons and his son, Hunter, are life members of the National Eagle Scout Association, and Ross is Scoutmaster at Imperial’s Troop 4070. Have a question of Flag Etiquette? Please submit your questions or photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. (By submitting, you’re licensing content for use.)