A Pentagon memo sent out two days before this month’s Super Bowl warned members of the US armed services to show “proper respect” for Old Glory at sporting events — by not taking part in two traditional pregame displays of the Stars and Stripes.
The Feb. 10 missive –sent to Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and National Guard spokespeople by Chris Meagher, assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs — specifically takes issue with the unfurling of a giant American flag to be held horizontally on the field of play during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and teams of military parachutists descending onto the field with a flag in tow.
“While many, including military members, view these displays as inspiring and patriotic, uniformed service members may not participate directly in the unfurling, holding and/or carrying of giant, horizontal US flags that are displayed during community outreach events,” the memo states.
“Similarly, DoD jump teams may not incorporate the US flag in their public demonstrations if the flag cannot be caught reliably and handled respectfully by ground personnel during landings.”
In addition, the notice reminds troops that marching in a parade while holding the US flag horizontally is also not allowed.
The US Flag Code, a set of advisory rules for the display and care of the Stars and Stripes, sets specific guidelines for American flags used by federal agencies — including for proper size, display and “dignified” destruction. While some parts of the code — such as never letting a flag touch the ground — are relatively well-known by the general public, others are more obscure.
For example, the code indicates that “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform,” which may come as a surprise to Americans on Independence Day. It also prescribes that lapel pins depicting the flag must be worn on the left side of one’s chest “near the heart.”
“The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing,” the code reads.
While it’s not illegal for civilians to handle the flag inappropriately — the First Amendment and past Supreme Court precedents allowing flag-burning make sure of that — the Defense Department requires that service members “must consistently show proper respect to the US flag and uphold … the Flag Code.”
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