Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day

Our chapter on civic culture discusses patriotic symbols and rituals, so it appropriate to note that today is Flag Day. An article in The Anniston Star (Alabama) reminds us that Americans have a unique relationship to their flag:
“We can incorporate our flag into our clothing, bring it onstage during a rock concert. The First Amendment actually gives us the freedom to burn it,” said John Ketterer, director of the International House student exchange program at Jacksonville State University. “In Mexico, that would get you 10 years in prison.”

Ketterer spent six years in Mexico serving as the director of the American School in Torreon where, he said, the flagpole in front of the schoolhouse stood bare.

“In Mexico, the flag is protected by law,” he explained. “It is not for people’s frivolous use. Disrespect is strongly sanctioned.”

One of Ketterer's students learned this lesson after making the mistake of incorporating the Mexican flag into his school talent show performance. Ketterer said a military officer saw the performance and brought charges against the school-age child, which Ketterer had to plead with the officer to drop.

In Europe, national symbols are not as regulated, but Ketterer said the culture is not one of patriotic flag flying. He said European countries' flags are seen on state buildings but rarely on personal property.

"But you do see them at soccer games," he added as proof that restrictions are not as tight.

Paul McCartney, professor of political science at Towson University in Maryland and a leading expert on American nationalism, said in an emailed response that flags serve as a symbol for the creed of a nation.

“The United States and its flag stand for values, like individual liberty, that can have meaning for anyone, anywhere,” he said. "In a way that other nations and national symbols cannot."

According to McCartney, the distinction is that America's nationalism is not based on language, race or religion.

“If one wanted to become an American and was willing to uphold the principles at the heart of our founding documents, then one could become an American,” McCartney said. “That’s the message of the Statue of Liberty.”

On June 10, the president issued a proclamation providing background on the day:
On June 14, 1777, the Second Constitutional Congress adopted a flag with thirteen stripes and thirteen stars to represent our Nation, one star for each of our founding colonies. The stars were set upon a blue field, in the words of the Congress's resolution, "representing a new constellation" in the night sky. What was then a fledgling democracy has flourished and expanded, as we constantly strive toward a more perfect Union.

Through the successes and struggles we have faced, the American flag has been ever present. It has flown on our ships and military bases around the world as we continue to defend liberty and democracy abroad. It has been raised in yards and on porches across America on days of celebration, and as a sign of our shared heritage. And it is lowered on days of remembrance to honor fallen service members and public servants; or when tragedy strikes and we join together in mourning. Our flag is the mark of one country, one people, uniting under one banner.

When the American flag soars, so too does our Nation and the ideals it stands for. We remain committed to defending the liberties and freedoms it represents, and we give special thanks to the members of the Armed Forces who wear our flag proudly. On Flag Day, and during National Flag Week, we celebrate the powerful beacon of hope that our flag has become for us all, and for people around the world.

To commemorate the adoption of our flag, the Congress, by joint resolution approved August 3, 1949, as amended (63 Stat. 492), designated June 14 of each year as "Flag Day" and requested that the President issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of the flag of the United States on all Federal Government buildings. The Congress also requested, by joint resolution approved June 9, 1966, as amended (80 Stat. 194), that the President annually issue a proclamation designating the week in which June 14 occurs as "National Flag Week" and call upon citizens of the United States to display the flag during that week.