The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What Does Religion Say About Respecting the American Flag?

“Many American flags are being flown on people's homes yet there are rules about respectfully flying our nation's flag. Is it okay to fly the flag and ignore the rules? For example, a flag needs to be lit at night or it must come down. What about wearing the flag as clothing?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to ethicsandreligio[email protected].

The Ethics and Religion panel wishes you a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday. This week, we respond to a question raised by a general discussion on Facebook. You can submit your own questions of ethics and religion by emailing [email protected].

“Many American flags are being flown on people's homes yet there are rules about respectfully flying our nation's flag. Is it okay to fly the flag and ignore the rules? For example, a flag needs to be lit at night or it must come down. What about wearing the flag as clothing?”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“As with most everything these days, there has been a relaxing of the practices and customs regarding the flag. I do appreciate seeing people making the effort to abide by the rules of conduct set forth by Title IV of the US Code. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that many who display, wear, or otherwise use Old Glory are not aware of the guidelines indicated there. But they all make sense if we are talking about a symbol designed for the veneration we are supposed to offer.

“I suspect that one reason I would encourage the tender treatment of the flag is that some of what the Code indicates is similar to how Hindus are raised to treat the sacred images we use in our  ceremonies.

“That all said, I do acknowledge the rights of those who mistreat the flag for political purposes. That is, I am tolerant of protest events where the flag is burned. I am less offended by that than by those who wear these absurd flag costumes in an attempt to prove their uber-patriotism.”

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“The Federal Flag Code gives clear direction for use of and display of the American flag. These directions should be followed.

“When I observe a dozen or more  flags posted in a neighbor’s yard on Memorial Day or July 4, I wonder what this is meant to convey? Is the volume of flags displayed meant to translate into super-patriotism? Does wearing a flag pin or a flag shirt indicate a higher standard of patriotic devotion? Or does a multiplicity of flags cheapen the symbol? I lean towards the latter. I choose quiet respect rather than noisy demonstrativeness.

“The question for Christians is how allegiance to the flag relates to allegiance to God. They are not equal in devotion. A Christian’s commitment is first to the sovereign God, then to their nation. Attention to and allegiance to God supersedes that of nation.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“I feel many claim to respect the flag or claim more patriotism by flying the American flag, yet their actions speak otherwise. My neighbor flies a 30-foot flag in his front yard which is never illuminated at night and is left out in all inclement weather. Both actions violate proper flag etiquette that dates back to 1942. He may have the largest flag in the neighborhood, but his actions do not show respect for our nation’s flag.

“Wearing the flag as clothing is disrespectful. I also feel it is disrespectful to alter the American flag with a political candidate’s name or changing its colors. The American flag flies for all Americans, it was never meant to be used by one group of people over another group of people. If anything, our flag should unite us and not divide us.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“There is a legal instrument known as United States Flag Code, a federal statute that establishes ‘advisory’ rules for displaying our national banner. The key word is ‘advisory;’ these rules cannot be enforced, and no crime is committed if they are breached. Christians are enjoined by the apostle Peter to ‘submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake’ (I Peter 2:13), so it is right for us to consult the Flag Code and abide by its provisions.  

“One matter not provided for in the Flag Code, so far as I know, is the display of the American flag in churches. The custom dates from World War I, when a wave of super-patriotism engulfed the nation and the nation’s churches. I personally hold the position that no national flag belongs in a Christian place of worship, because the church is a world-wide or international fellowship, owing supreme allegiance to the Maker of heaven and earth, and not to any one national power. As a matter not regulated in Scripture, however, Christians are free to follow their consciences in such matters.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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