Gary Horton | Honor Our One Flag of Unity

Gary Horton

After a divisive election, it’s timely to remember an original American guiding principle of national unity… 

There’s been hubbub about modified U.S. flags being flown at our high school football games. Various parents, players and coaches have hoisted and paraded American flags modified with “a thin blue line.” There’s consternation in our community from both sides of the blue line. Some feel flying the “thin blue line” flag respectfully shows support for police and is patriotic and proper. Others feel displaying any altered flag is imposing special-interest beliefs onto public events, forcing non-aligned thinkers to submit to flag messaging deviating from the authentic, unaltered flag. 

Should a “thin blue line” flag be acceptable, then why not a “Black Lives Matter” altered U.S. flag? Or a Donald Trump face modified flag? A Joe Biden face flag? Rainbows? An NRA American flag, complete with an AR-15 draped over the 13 stripes? The possibilities are endless. 

It doesn’t consume too many brain cycles to compute that altering the American flag in any way opens cans of divisive worms that simply don’t need opening. Amidst all the other disunity present in our country, we surely don’t need to be fighting over flags at football games – or any event. 

Fortunately, the answer to the “thin blue line” controversy and any flag alteration, is straightforward and already decided in U.S. policy. Any modification of the American flag is forbidden by federal guidelines. 

Congress recommends policy about keeping, handling, and displaying of the U.S. flag. Known as the United States Flag Code, these rules are designed to cause Americans to respect the unified country and values our flag represents. The code is sufficiently comprehensive to remove any misunderstanding about how our flag should be used, displayed, stored, and it what forms the flag itself may take. And the code is current: Most recently, the Flag Code was updated and approved by Congress on March 28, 2017. 

Pertinent to the “thin blue line” controversy is Section 8: Respect for Flag (g): “The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.” 

That’s clear. No changes, no additions, no design alterations. There’s a reason for this, and it’s about the unity of our nation. No organization or movement should alter the flag and abuse it for partisan, sectarian, or subculture promotion purpose. No modified flag should be allowed to supersede the unifying purpose of the authentic flag. 

Subsection (i) adds, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. …Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.” Promoting any political or social party, any movement, or any belief, certainly falls under both these advertising prohibitions as well as the alteration prohibitions. 

These are the rules Congress provides and we should obey to best honor our flag and the nation for which it stands. These are rules both our public and individual actions should follow, as the flag represents the entirety of our nation – all our states and all our people. 

Ultimately, our flag is about unifying our diverse country under common values. All 50 states bound together on a field of blue, with red and white stripes paying homage to our 13 original colonies. explains: 

“The colors on the flag represent: 

“Red: valor and bravery; 

“White: purity and innocence: 

“Blue: vigilance, perseverance, and justice” 

… and this is what we hope to reflect as a united people in the United States of America. 

The Flag Code also codifies the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 

Our authentic flag stands for one indivisible republic, with liberty and justice for all. 

One indivisible republic. Not to be divided. One nation, for all. For all of us. 

Certainly, the flag itself shall not be used as the very tool with which to divide us. Thus, our U.S. Flag Code anticipates the potential for creating divisions modifying the U.S. flag brings, and straightforwardly prohibits any additions or changes to it. 

The William S. Hart Union High School District was completely correct ruling against the display of modified flags at school events. The matter had already long been decided by rules and recommendations provided by national public code. Any entity, be it a political party, candidate, social movement, or even private person, should reconsider their own allegiance to our flag and to our unified nation before altering it for any special interest. Flag alterations divide us as a people and defile our commitment to the unity our flag represents. 

You may find the Flag Code here: 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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