What’s Going On: Repeal laws no one follows, even the patriotic ones

Reader’s Digest recently published a feature entitled “Here Are 50 of the Dumbest Laws in Every State,” and as you can imagine, there’s some real doozies.

For example, you can’t be drunk in a bar in Alaska. In California, it’s illegal to own a nuclear weapon, and in Florida, you can’t sell children.

In Georgia, where fried chicken is serious business, there’s a law prohibiting you from eating it with utensils, and in Virginia, you can’t have a skunk as a pet.

And in the spirit of “just in case,” a county in Washington made it illegal to poach … Bigfoot.

Some of the laws are less silly than simply archaic and thus, ignored. For example, in South Carolina it’s still illegal to work, or dance, on Sunday. Not surprisingly, as no one pays attention to that law, efforts are underway to repeal it.

And for the same reason, there’s a federal law on the books that needs to be repealed: The U.S. Flag Code.

Under the direction of the American Legion and 67 other organizations, the flag code was first drafted in 1923, later ratified as law by Congress in 1942.

Pre-flag code, there were no “official” guidelines for handling and displaying the flag, which are now clearly defined.

But the flag code is much, much more detailed than outlining a procedure to fold the flag or stating when and where it can be flown.

And as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details.

In its entirety, the flag code exceeds 4,500 words, or more than six times the length of this column. So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in there.

The problem is we ignore a lot (most?) of those provisions, and there won’t be more evidence of that than during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

During our nation’s most patriotic holiday, you’ll see folks violating the flag code by wearing shirts that look like the flag. Or hats. Or bandanas. Or eating barbecue off plates with a flag on it or wiping their mouths with flag napkins while watching television advertisements featuring the flag.

While none of those things will be done with the intent of disrespecting the flag, they are still in violation of the law governing it, which is exactly why it needs to be repealed.

But it won’t be for two reasons. One, it would take an act of Congress and no politician is going to suggest repealing the code for fear of being labeled “anti-flag.”

The other reason, though, is more of a person and that person is Colin Kaepernick.

You remember Colin. He’s been out of the NFL for a while now, but he was the guy labeled as a domestic terrorist and threat to our American way of life because he knelt during the national anthem.

I still haven’t figured out why kneeling in church is a sign of reverence and humility but yet when a song is playing, the same action is disrespectful, arrogant and somehow associated with hating veterans, America, apple pie and puppy dogs.

Regardless, what kneeling during the national anthem is, unequivocally, is a violation of the flag code. There’s no grey area here. No room for interpretation. The flag code specifically states you are supposed to stand and face the flag with your hand over your heart if you’re a civilian or by saluting it if you are or have been a member of the armed forces.

Any variation from that is a violation. Just like wearing a shirt that looks like a flag. Or eating off a paper plate with a flag on it. Or painting a passenger airline to look like a flag (including your company’s logo) like Southwest Airlines has been doing.

All of those things are violation of the flag code, but only one of them rankles the ire of the self-proclaimed patriot. Ironically, it’s that self-proclaimed patriot who usually is the most frequent violator of the flag code, which is exactly why it needs to be repealed.

Most folks don’t intend to violate the code. They have good intentions. But it doesn’t change the fact they do … all the time.

So if we don’t intend to follow 90 percent of the code, it’s time to scrap the whole thing. If we want to rewrite it and get rid of all the parts we don’t adhere to, that’s fine.

But in its current format, we are using it as an instrument to criticize and demonize the minority who violate it on occasion, while ignoring the majority who violate it frequently.

That was never its purpose and to do so today, reduces our nation’s enduring symbol of freedom and hope to a political pawn.

And there’s nothing more disrespectful than that.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.


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