Constable: Flag Day has rules, which we have the freedom to ignore

You might not have spectacular plans for Friday's Flag Day, but it is not a holiday to be ignored in our neck of the woods.

One of the first proponents of Flag Day was Bernard J. Cigrand, a dentist who moved to Batavia and later Aurora, and founded the American Flag Day Association in 1886. Forty years after President Harry Truman in 1949 declared June 14 of each year as National Flag Day, another local resident ignited a passionate debate about the flag.

This 1989 exhibit - "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?" - by School of the Art Institute of Chicago student Scott Tyler ignited a firestorm of protests and counterprotests. Associated Press

In the spring of 1989, School of the Art Institute of Chicago student Scott Tyler ignited a firestorm of protests and counterprotests with his exhibit titled, "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?" featuring a flag spread on the floor in front of a book in which he encouraged people to write comments while presumably standing on the flag.

President George H.W. Bush called his art "disgraceful," and Congress quickly passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989, making it a punishable offense for anyone who "knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any U.S. flag."

The U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 1989 had ruled in favor of a flag-burner at the 1984 Republican Convention, proclaimed days before Flag Day 1990 that the Flag Protection Act violated the First Amendment.

Police arrested Scott Tyler of Chicago after he set fire to an American flag on the steps of the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 31, 1989. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled flag-burning is protected as free speech. Associated Press

Conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy joined justices William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun in the majority.

In 1995, the House, while defeating calls to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment protecting the flag.

But that effort fell four votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority needed to pass the amendment in the Senate.

The House tried another flag amendment in 1997, and the Senate nixed it.

Republican congressman Phil Crane of Wauconda made flag protection a cornerstone of his campaigns, and flag amendments in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005 also fell short.

Today we see the flag painted on the side of garbage containers, flying atop toothpicks plucked from sandwiches and tossed in the trash, and displayed "patriotically" on the sleeves of professional athletes and in advertisements in violation of the U.S. Flag Code.

In 1897, Illinois passed one of the first state Flag Codes, which wasn't aimed at artists or protesters but at political parties and breweries that used the flag to sell us candidates and beer.

The flag still finds itself wrapped around products and politicians.

"Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" tweeted President-elect Donald Trump in November 2016.

Trump's hugging of the flag before a speech in March drew praise and criticism, as it has done the other handful of times he has embraced Old Glory.

Tyler, the student whose flag display plays a key role in the debate, now goes by the name Dread Scott and remains a visual artist tackling issues such as justice, race and freedom.

His website features a short TED talk about that once and still controversial display.

I'll fly the flag from my front porch on Flag Day, not as a political statement, or art project, but to celebrate the freedom I enjoy. Others are free to ignore the holiday, fly the flag instead of voting, burn a flag, wear it or step on it.

"We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration," Brennan wrote in his 1989 opinion, "for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents." That works for me.

Did you know a Batavian founded Flag Day 99 years ago?

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