Q: In the BND story about the Belleville City Hall renovation, I noticed the U.S. flag did not seem to be in the position of honor in the council chamber. Instead, it was in the center with the Belleville flag on one side and the Illinois flag on the other. Unless protocol has changed or I am mistaken, the U.S. flag should be to the audience’s left as they view the podium or stage.
Gene Isbell, of Mascoutah
A: Unfortunately, you leave me again with the unpleasant task of telling a well-meaning reader that he is in error.
It is true that in some cases no flag should be placed to the right of the Stars and Stripes. For example, when displayed with another flag against a wall on crossed staffs, the U.S. flag should be on the right and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
Never miss a local story.
However, this is not one of those cases.
According to the United States Code — Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 175 (“Position and Manner of Display”) — subsection (e) states: “The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.”
You might be surprised to learn that it took nearly 150 years after the Second Continental Congress adopted the first U.S. flag on June 14, 1777, to develop this lengthy set of rules detailing how to properly honor Old Glory. It finally came together on June 14, 1923, at a National Flag Conference in Washington, D.C. Spurred by a flag-protection movement that had regained steam during World War I, representatives of the U.S. Army and Navy, which had developed their own protocols, along with members of 66 other national organizations put it together.
Congress, however, did not make it official law — as well as rules governing the playing of the National Anthem and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — until Dec. 22, 1942, more than a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And, yes, Section 171 states, “During rendition of the National Anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.” On both June 21, 1989, (Texas v. Johnson) and June 11, 1990, (U.S. v. Eichman), however, the Supreme Court struck down laws imposing penalties for flag desecration.
So Mayor Mark Eckert and City Council members may face criticism on many issues, but they can sleep easy on this one. To read the entire code, you can go to www.usflag.org/uscode36.html#182 or you could buy a physical copy by contacting the Government Printing Office at www.gpo.gov/contact or 866-512-1800.
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Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Do you like to read in bed? Then you can impress your friends by calling yourself a librocubucularist, according to writer Christopher Morley in his novel “The Haunted Bookshop.” It’s a mash-up of Latin words for book (liber) and bedroom (cubiculum). But you probably knew that if you played the 1981 Genius Edition of Trivial Pursuit, which included it as a question.