Do you know about the U.S. Flag Code? How are we supposed to show respect for the flag?

Deb Moldaschel
The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

Do you remember a couple years ago when the U.S. Flag and the Confederate flag were both flown (equal size) in the front yard of a house on Main Street East? You can’t actually say either flag was being displayed with respect, as both were tattered.

That bothered me a lot. I couldn’t understand what kind of message the people who decided to display both flags might be trying to convey. My thoughts tended toward either hate or ignorance. 

A couple times I parked across the street and took pictures. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the pictures—ideally for a newspaper story. I wanted to know why they flew both flags together, but truthfully I was afraid to go up and knock on the door to ask.

Then one day, both flags were gone. I don’t know if those people moved away, or just got tired of their tattered flags.

I believe that the Confederate flag (which is actually a battle flag) stands in direct opposition to the United States and our ideals. That flag represents our country’s opponent in the Civil War—a war that could have been the end of the United States. To me it is just as disrespectful as flying a Nazi flag.

I love our country and respect our flag. I also am a firm believer in the right to peacefully protest against our government. 

There are rules for handling and displaying the U.S. Flag, defined by a law known as the U.S. Flag Code. I read about it on a variety of websites and learned that it is federal law, but only suggests voluntary customs for handling our country’s flag. The law was never intended to be enforced and does not have any penalties for failure to follow the guidelines.

The Flag Code includes information on display and use of the flag by civilians. These are things we all recognize: display the flag from sunrise to sunset; it can be displayed overnight if properly illuminated (shine a spotlight on it.) The flag should not be displayed in inclement weather, unless it is an “all-weather” flag.

The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery; should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner.

The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. (The union is the blue field of stars.)

So this brings me to the point of this column.

I received a couple phone calls about a U.S. Flag being flown upside down at a private residence. The callers were upset and considered this a sign of disrespect to our flag.

I happened to speak with the homeowner about something else and decided to just go ahead and ask why the flag was upside down at his house.

He said it is a sign of distress. I asked if he was in distress — he said: no, I think our country is in distress.

Before I researched this “upside down flag” thing I thought the sign of distress was meant for military uses. But it doesn’t say that in the U.S. Flag Code. I did find this from a company that sells U.S. Flags, Collins Flags: “These instances [flying the flag upside down] do not include moments of personal dissatisfaction or times of protest.” That’s their interpretation, but not what is spelled out in the code.

But many people don’t like it, and I can’t disagree. It seems disrespectful to both the flag and to people who have served our country.

I do wonder why no local patriots ever called me about that Confederate flag, though.