By Lynn Ashby 9 Nov. 2015
THE FRONT YARD – Time to run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it, to quote from “Twelve Angry Men.” My flagpole is actually an aluminum pipe sticking out of a tree, and, like most of you, I change flags according to the seasons and anniversaries. National holidays like the Fourth of July, Armistice Day and Black Friday get the U.S. flag. Texas state holidays such as Texas Independence Day, San Jacinto Day and LBJ’s birthday (no kidding — look it up) are celebrated by my running up the Lone Star Flag. I put out a scarlet and gold (not red and yellow) Marine Corps flag every November 10, the Marines’ birthday. To celebrate the Longhorns’ victorious football season I run up my orange and white UT banner – lately at half staff. And I can tear, burn, stomp on or toss in the street any of them to express my feelings.
Yes, once again our courts have decreed we have the right to make fools of ourselves. The latest incident came recently when the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 35-page decision, ruled that a state law prohibiting anyone from messing with the U.S. or Texas flag is invalid. Why? Because it is “overbroad” and thus is in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So Terence Johnson, a resident of the East Texas community of Bedias, can breathe easier.
Johnson, who is black, said he became quite angry when a store clerk made some racial comments to his mother. The 20-year-old (at the time in 2012) saw a U.S. flag hanging outside a hardware store and threw the flag onto a highway. There the flag was run over and damaged. Johnson was arrested for destruction of a flag and spent four and a half weeks in the Houston County Jail (that’s in East Texas, not the Houston city jail).until released on bond. His case was dismissed, the state of Texas appealed, dismissed, appealed.
You know how our legal system works, and I say “our” because you and I were paying for all of this. It will only be a matter of time before we see all of this again: Texas trying to prosecute someone under a state law that prohibits anyone from damaging, defacing, mutilating or burning the U.S. or Texas flag. And court after court – literally from small-county DAs to the U.S. Supreme Court — saying the law is too broad. In 1989 the Texas Legislature even rewrote the law to make it more specific and thus pass scrutiny from the courts. Didn’t work.
No matter what the courts say, Texans have always been very protective of our flags, especially that of the Lone Star persuasion, and display it everywhere. It used to be that the Texas flag could only be shown in respect and honor. But somehow the law is no longer in force. Now we see the Lone Star flag used in beer ads, car dealerships and made into jogging shorts covering somebody’s sweaty behind.
Seeing our flag against a background of trees, green grass, and graffiti on the railroad overpass, it really is a beautiful sight. Actually, we have a very beautiful flag and was so declared by a vexillologists society in 2001 as the second prettiest state flag in the nation or Canada. (A vexillologist is one who studies flags.) New Mexico was first, but the judges had spent the previous night getting loaded at an Albuquerque casino, or at least that’s the story I’m putting out.
As I found out years ago, and wrote about, Texas has some unique laws dealing with its flag. For example, there is a much-ignored law that says all trains traveling in or through Texas have to display the Texas flag. We also have a law stating that, when displayed in Texas, the Lone Star flag will take precedence over all others. The only exception is when the U.S. flag is also on display. Contrary to popular myth, there is no law requiring that the Texas flag be displayed on a separate but equal pole alongside the Stars and Stripes. That’s often the way it is done, but put that story alongside the Easter Bunny, Sasquatch and you can keep your doctor.
We feel very protective of our state flag. There is a story that in 1908 Texans hanged a man for desecrating the Lone Star flag. Historians can find no record of such an instance although there is an old story that the Texas Legislature once passed a resolution congratulating someone for beating up a man who desecrated the Texas flag. Finally, a few items to know: The Texas flag is known as the “Lone Star Flag” which, in turn, gave Texas its nickname, “The Lone Star State,” not the other way around. Our pledge of allegiance is to the state flag first and then to the state. “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”
The Texas flag flies permanently above both doors of the Texas State Capitol, under the U.S. flag at the south door, but only the Texas flag flies at the north door. The law also requires that the state flag be flown at or near any International Port of Entry. Does that include the Sabine and Red Rivers.? And because of our usual legislative efficiency — it’s a long story — Texas had no legal flag from 1879 to1933. Not until 1993 did the Legislature specify that the red and blue colors are defined by the “Standard Color Reference of America.” That law also specifies that the finial, or top of the pole, should be a lone star or a spearhead. Is yours? Sometimes we see the Texas flag flown upside down. The red is on the bottom and the star’s top spike is upward. Remember that the next time you throw a flag on the highway.
Ashby gets flagged down at email@example.com