Enshrined in our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the U.S. flag is an essential element in many patriotic celebrations, but today, we honor Old Glory itself.

Today is national Flag Day, declared an annual observance by an act of Congress signed by President Harry S. Truman in 1949. The idea for Flag Day seems to have been born as an observance in the classroom of public school teacher Bernard J. Cigrand on June 14, 1885, and the day was marked by various school districts, states and presidents over the years leading up to the permanent national declaration a few years after World War II.

The question posed in the song “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” clearly should be answered yes. Look around. You’ll see our flag displayed or represented in too many places to count.

The flag is a moving symbol of the United States. Yet 242 years after the Continental Congress approved the original design on June 14, 1777, the flag has also evolved into an element of American political and popular culture layered in complex and sometimes contradictory meanings.

The U.S. Flag Code declares: “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” Our flag flies at the head of parades, is displayed in schools and at sporting events. The Stars and Stripes top government buildings, car dealerships and veterans’ caskets. It is even planted at six separate spots on the moon. No nation’s symbol flies higher.

But those who seek to honor it frequently get crosswise to the rules for respectful display enumerated in the Flag Code. If you wear a flag T-shirt, skirt, swim shorts or bikini, you are violating the code. The same if you have a flag tablecloth, bedspread or those festive flag napkins for your Fourth of July picnic.

The spate of ads you’ll see today through July 4 displaying Old Glory are also afoul of the code: “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”

Let’s note here that violations of the code of conduct are not the same as breaking a law. For most people, these violations do not amount to intentional disrespect. But it is important to note the current and historic role of the flag as both a symbol celebrating American freedom and a conduit for protest and petition that our Constitution protects.

The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Our Constitution and our country are big enough to maintain the free speech protections that the Supreme Court has repeatedly held include acts of protest including the flag. The freedom that the flag represents is important enough and our dedication to it strong enough to survive and benefit from dissent.

Our flag is a symbol of something important enough that many have fought and died to protect it. Today we honor the symbol. Let’s remember to honor what it stands for every day.

Oh, and keep it off your rear end.

— The Joplin Globe

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