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Any culture in history that has survived the test of time has developed symbols, rituals and even idols that bind the culture together. Only very few symbols are raised to the level of an idol and I would say the defining moment of that assertion is when those within the culture are willing to lay down their most dear gift, their own life in its defense. We have seen this all too often in the annals of our American lore that soldiers on the battlefield will leave cover to pick up and carry the flag forward at the risk of their own life. It should then only be fitting as Americans that we take a few minutes to explore the history of the flag, and how we now today revere this idol of our freedom.
But idols gain their reverence only through the rituals where we commit ourselves to their glory and I propose to you, as Americans our two most enduring rituals and their history today of the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Let’s explore them all now together.
By 1775, the War for Independence was well underway even though a true Declaration was not yer declared. At this time, various flags were flown to represent the rebellion. Some of the first would be the evergreen tree on a field of white with the words “An Appeal to Heaven”. Those flown by the colonial Marines included the famous Gadsden flag with its own declaration of freedom, “Don’t Tread On Me”. Others including the Son’s of Liberty flag which represented the original dissension that started it all with the Boston Tea Party drew to the attention to the newly formed Continental Congress that there was a need for unification. With that in mind, three members of Congress approached a widowed seamstress in Philadelphia to help create a new unified symbol.
ARE YOU A PROUD AMERICAN?!
Betsy Ross was a widow and her Uncle by Marriage, George Ross knew of her skill as an upholsterer. She and George Washington attended the same church and sat but one pew from each other. George and George, along with Robert Morris, a wealthy landowner and member of the Continental Congress, walked into her home to commission her to sew the new flag that would unite the colonies. Her modifications to Washington’s original idea would bring to life our most revered symbol. By June of 1776 Congress adopted the 13 star and 13 stripe flag and a few days later – Declared Independence.
Over the years the flag would change with the addition of each new state and during the war of 1812, inspired as he watched the battle of Baltimore from a British ship as an emissary, Francis Scott Key penned a poem entitled “Defense of Fort M’Henry” which he later with the help of his brother paired to an old English pub song entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven”. As it was published later across the United States, it was relabeled after the name of the fifteen stars and fifteen stripes flag: The Star-Spangled Banner.
Even as South Carolina secedes from the Union in 1861, President Lincoln refuses to remove stars from the flag as his devotion to reuniting America was steadfast.
By 1892, we would see the adoption of the Pledge of Allegiance. This devotion pledging allegiance to the flag will concrete the flag of the United States as an idol of culture and simultaneously, launch what will be a series of court cases that will question the ‘fabric’ of its being.
This challenge to our unified American symbol of freedom has grown as deep as the principals it stands for. We saw this first in 1943, just as the nation was about to launch into a critical role in the last World War when the Supreme Court upheld that schoolchildren, or anyone for that matter, cannot be forced to salute the flag. In essence, the Supreme Court was granting legal idol status to the flag saying that if a person’s religious beliefs prevent them from worshiping any other idols, that they need not be required to worship at our American Flag.
By 1949 the great flag debate became more entrenched when the flag, like those great fore-fathers and other influential Americans, received its own day. On August 3rd, President Truman named Flag Day to be celebrated each June 14th.
By 1954 our elected congress to a step to add the words “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance to entrench the idea that were are all created by the same Maker, and our civilized society lasts only because of His glory. Taking it one step further in 1989, in response to protests related to the Vietnam War, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act, which moved stated “Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both”.
As courts begin to interpret the Constitution to dictate that Symbolic Free Speech is more important than the symbol of the flag, Congress decides to take their actions one step further and change the Constitution through an amendment to prohibit the desecration of the flag. Ultimately, they will fail.
The same logic was brought to bear on the Pledge of Allegiance, now containing the words “Under God”. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it is constitutional to have the words in our National Anthem as a similar vernacular is cited in our Declaration of Independence, they did note in an earlier ruling that forcing anyone to recite it would violate their personal beliefs.
Oh the Places Its Been
In 1787, Captain Robert Gray sailed the American flag around the world ultimately making shore in the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, naming the river for his boat and claiming the far coast for the united states.
Over a century later in 1909, Explorer Robert Perry places pieces of the American flag around the North Pole. In 1963 Barry Bishop places the flag on the highest point in the world only to be outdone in 1969 as Neil Armstrong pins one to the moon.
Some times the places the flag travels are to symbolize strength like in 1945 when the flag that stood over Pearl Harbor was raised over the White House and the Japanese surrendered symbolizing the beginning of the end of WWII.
Why Does It Look Like That?
What does the flag really symbolize anyway? I think for each of us depending on our backgrounds it can mean a slightly different thing. From its inception, there was not as much symbolism that was outwardly recorded as one might think. However, to clarify things, Congress has published their interpretation of the meaning of the flag and here it is:
White – Purity and Innocence
Red – Hardiness and Valor
Blue – Vigilance, Percervierence, and Justice
Stars – The fifty states and the heavens – A divine goal that Man has desired from the beginning of time
Stripes – The 13 original colonies and the rays of light that those that emanate from the sun which shines on our land.
How To Show Your Patriotism Correctly
I am no Vexilogist (person sho studies flags), but here is my list of what is in law today and also anything that is commonly accepted practices.
Over a Street – Hanf with the Union on top and facing North if an East/West Street or East if the street is North/South.
Crossed – When the US flag is crossed with another flag, the US flag should be on the viewers Left and its pole should be in front.
With other flags on the Same pole – The US Flag should be on the top.
With other flags on adjacent poles – The US flag is raised first and lowered last. The other flags are not raised to the same height as the American Flag, and the US flag is on the left-hand side of the viewer.
Out of a building window – The flag should leave the building with the Union first with the union on top.
On a casket – the union of blue should be placed at the head and over the left shoulder.
Carried With Other Flags In A Procession – It should be on the color guard’s right side or if there are multiple rows it can be in the front center alone followed by the other flags.
Grouped With flags of other nation-states – It should be even in hight and of similar size to the other flags as is customary of nations not at war. If over an embassy the US flag will be on the leftmost position, followed by the host nation, and then any other nations alphabetically in English, then followed by non-nation flags.
Next to a podium or pulpit – to the speakers right.
On a car – if flown on a pole it should be firmly affixed to the right front fender. If flat like that of a sticker, then it should be displayed with the union toward the front of the car as if blowing in the wind as it drives. It is okay to put them on both sides of the vehicle, but the one on the right side should be a reverse of the one on the left.
In a window – the Union should be on the top left side of people standing outside.
On a Uniform – it should be worn on the shoulder and like on a car the stripes should face backward.
How To Fold A Flag
The flag should be folded along the long edge in half, then in half again. The Union should be on the bottom at that time and the flag should then be folded in triangles toward the Union until the end then tucked into place.
When Is A Flag At Half Mast?
You can always check back in here for the most up to date information on where the flag shou
ld be, but in short, the flag is ordered to half-mast by the President of the United States. When a flag is ordered to half-mast, it should be taken to the top of the pole first quickly then lowered slowly to half-mast.