The flag code: what disrespects the American flag and what doesn’t


Moss Brennan, Reporter

It started with one player sitting on the sidelines during the National Anthem on Aug. 14, 2016 in a preseason game.

It then quickly avalanched into roughly 200 players kneeling on Sept. 25, , according to the Associated Press.

The American flag has been a fixture in the news lately, and disrespect for the flag has especially been a heated topic.

The debate about disrespecting the flag became prominent when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained attention by sitting during the National Anthem before playing the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26, 2016.

He began the protest on Aug. 14, 2016, in the first preseason game, but it did not get noticed until Aug. 26, 2016.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem disrespectful to the flag and America, or is it just an American practicing their right to Freedom of Speech?

According to, the Flag Code was not enacted until Dec. 22, 1942, when it became public law.

The code does not impose penalties for misuse of the flag as each state has its own set of laws regarding flag law penalties.

In Article 52 of the NC General Statutes, any “public acts of physical contact including, but not limited to, mutilation, defiling, defacing or trampling” of the American Flag or North Carolina flag can result in a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.

A Class 2 misdemeanor charge can lead to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Kneeling during the National Anthem is not mentioned in the U.S. Flag Code, but under “Patriotic Customs,” Title 36 of Chapter 10, “all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart”.

Many see kneeling during the anthem as a sign of disrespect to America and those who have died for America.

President Donald Trump tweeted, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

However, in the flag code there are things everyday people do to disrespect the flag.

According to Vice Sports, the NFL did not have players on the field for the National Anthem until 2009, when they then received millions of dollars from the Department of Defense and National Guard for patriotic displays.

During the National Anthem, the flag is typically carried onto the field and spread horizontal to the ground being held on all sides.

In Section 8 of the Flag Code, Respect for the Flag, Article C says that the flag should “never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”

Before most NFL games, the flag is being disrespected by just being held out on the field.

During the Fourth of July, there are many advertisements featuring the flag in all its glory and paper plates or napkins with the American flag as the design.

Article I states, “the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever” and that the flag “should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard”.

Flag cups, plates and napkins are clear examples of violations of Flag Code, but that is not talked about as much.

One of the Flag Code rules is flag apparel and clothing involving the American flag.

Section 8, Article D says that “the flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

All the American flag shirts, pants, bed sheets and shoes are disrespectful to the American flag.

No matter how patriotic it may seem to wear a American flag shirt, it disrespects the flag according to the Flag Code.

Kneeling during the anthem has been debated about for almost a year now, but nowhere in the Flag Code does it say kneeling during the anthem is against the Flag Code.

Before someone calls out players for kneeling during the National Anthem, think of the real ways people disrespect the flag.

Do they have American flag clothing? Have they used a plate or napkin with the American flag on it? Do they get mad when the NFL displays the flag horizontally right above the ground?

Moss Brennan is a freshman journalism major from Durham, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @mosbren