The Fourth of July is coming up, and in between parades and cookouts, it's one of the most patriotic days of the year — so it inevitably inspires American flag t-shirts and red, white, and blue-painted nails. That's all festive and fun, but the flag is, for many, a sacred symbol of much more than a fashion accessory. And a strict set of rules governs the appropriate ways to handle and honor it, so even in the spirit of celebration on the Fourth, is it offensive to wrap yourself in the American flag?
Answers to that question vary wildly, with Americans disagreeing on the issue just as much as they they're divided on so many political flashpoints. In a pre-9/11 world, The Los Angeles Times asked its readers for their opinions on whether it was appropriate to wear American flag apparel. One called the practice "unimaginative and exploitative" and another while another lampooned it as "disrespectful and very offensive." A third respondent wrote in that "my dishes, silverware, shirts, socks, shoes all are stars and stripes" because "I'm proud to fly and wear our colors!"
So, if a person actually wraps herself in an American flag, is that worse than, say, rockin' the stars and bars on some shorts?
The Veterans of Foreign Wars offers step-by-step instructions for disposing of an American flag, which include ceremoniously burning it, saluting it, and burying its ashes. The organization mandates that the flag never be used for decoration, and The Flag Code states that the flag should not be used as drapery, ever. And the flag code is serious, even though breaking it is not illegal under federal law, because it's all about showing the flag — and, by extension, the country and all those who worked to make it what it is today — some well-earned respect.
In an essay for Total Sorority Move, Lucky Jo emphatically backed up this position:
It is not your blanket, it is not an accessory, and it is not okay for you to use it to gain likes on Instagram. It’s more than a flag, despite the fact that you can head over to Walmart and pick one up for less than ten dollars. It’s a representation of the United States of America, and a salute to those who have served and are serving to protect it. If you love this country and respect what it stands for, as well as the men and women who have put their lives on the line to keep it safe, you should not use the American flag as a piece of clothing or a blanket. It is just flat out wrong.
But last year Saba Ahmed, the president of the Muslim Republican Coalition, appeared on Fox News wearing an American flag hijab in response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's assertion that he would "strongly consider" shutting down mosques to prevent future terrorist attacks. In defending her controversial attire, Ahmed told the New York Daily News that she wore the flag because she's a "proud American." "I love the flag," she said "That’s why I’m wearing it, because I'm so proud of it."
Just like the United States itself, the country's flag means different things to different people. Most Americans, though, are proud of what it represents for them, even though their ideas on how to express are anything but uniform. There are lots of ways to display patriotism (and to rack up Instagram likes while doing it!) this 4th of July, though, so it's worth thinking twice and doing some research before wearing the flag as a cape for the festivities.