Easy to be wrong


Difficulties of getting flag etiquette right are demonstrated by this photo, which right now graces the website of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia:

It’s a photo of two people looking over a field. It’s a photo by Jonathan Hyman, copyright 2003. If I had to guess, I’d guess it is the field in Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001. In this cropped version, you can see that the man is wearing a jacket with the U.S. flag emblazoned on the back. In other versions (which I could not get to copy), you can see the woman is wearing an identical flag on the back of her coat.

The Constitution Center’s use of this photo implies that they find it intrigueing, if not an outright display of patriotic citizenship worthy to commemorate those who died on the attacks on the United States. The photograph promotes a display of the work of Jonathan Hyman:

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the National Constitution Center presents an exhibition of original photographs by Jonathan Hyman, documenting how the American people responded to and remember the events of September 11th.

Few events in American history have elicited the outpouring of public displays of emotion provoked by the September 11th attacks. Over the past five years, photographer Jonathan Hyman has traveled the country photographing the roadside displays, murals, and personal memorials created by Americans in response to September 11th. Hyman’s photographs of this new American folk-art pay tribute to those who died and movingly depict a country coming to grips with a national tragedy.

The selection of 100 photographs featured in the exhibit inspires conversations about community, national identity, and how ordinary Americans have commemorated the day. From images of urban murals, flag-painted houses, memorials, and signs to tattoos and decorated cars and trucks, the photographs show America’s sorrow, patriotism, anger, and in some cases, calls for revenge, peace and hope, or justice.

Sponsors of the exhibit include a major network television outlet, and police and fire fighter groups who wish to honor sacrifices by Americans:

9/11: A Nation Remembers is proudly supported by the City of Philadelphia Police and Fire Departments.

CBS 3 is the official media partner for the 9/11: A Nation Remembers exhibition.

Wearing flags on the backs of the jackets is a violation of the U.S. flag code. Were we to amend the Constitution to make flag desecration a crime, this physical desecration could (in a fit of stupidity) lead to the arrest of these two patriots, and probably to the arrest of the webmaster and photographer.

We don’t need an amendment to protect this flag from physical desecration.  Citizens have already hallowed it far above our poor ability to add or detract.  What we need is a law that authorizes the popular display of the flag, as people actually display it.  We could use a law that would protect citizens in their display of the flag — a law rather like the one we have, called the First Amendment.

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