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June 5, 2013
Rambling Thoughts on Church History
The Flag
by James B. Allen

This column is about something that I personally reflect on every year about this time. Even though it is not about Church history, it is related to American history and I thought it would not be amiss to share my thoughts about it.

I was born on the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States: Flag Day, June 14, 1927. Maybe that is one reason I have always had a special feeling for the flag, and for what I believe it stands for. And maybe, since Flag Day is almost upon us, that is why I wanted to use this column as a reminder of what the flag, and Flag Day, is all about, and to give a bit of history.

June 14, 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution, was the day the Continental Congress adopted the following resolution: “That the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field, representing the new constellation.” (As you know, a new white star has been added for each new state. For a short time a new stripe was also added, but after there were fifteen stripes we went back to the original thirteen.)

But, so far as historians can tell, the idea of a special day of celebration was not suggested until 1861, during the Civil War, by George Morris of Hartford, Connecticut. That year the city of Hartford celebrated the day with a patriotic program and a prayer for the success of the Federal army in preserving the Union. However, this observance did not begin a tradition.

Bernard J. Cigrand is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Flag Day.” In 1885, he held a formal observance of Flag Day in the Wisconsin grade school where he taught. Then, for several years after that, he stumped the country preaching patriotism and respect for the flag and calling for a nationwide annual observance.

Cigrand became president of the American Flag Day Association and later of the National Flag Day Society, giving him strong organizational backing for his cause. At one point he noted that he had given 2,188 speeches on patriotism and the flag.

Cigrand’s efforts caught on, and by the mid 1890's the observance of Flag Day on June 14 was a popular event. Many mayors and governors proclaimed it as a day of celebration for their cities and towns and people all over that nation continued to urge its adoption as an official national day.

Finally, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation designating June 14 as Flag Day for the nation. In 1927, the 150th anniversary of the flag, President Calvin Coolidge issued a similar proclamation. These proclamations established the tradition, and the day was celebrated in states and communities throughout the nation, but it did not become an official national day of observation until 1949.

On August 2, 1949, the United States Congress adopted a joint resolution officially designating June 14 as Flag Day and requesting the President to issue an annual proclamation calling for the day’s observance and for all federal government buildings to display the flag. In 1966, Congress went one step further by passing a resolution requesting the President to designate the week of June 14 as “National Flag Week” and urging the citizens of the United States to display the flag not just on flag day but during the week.

Sometime in the next two weeks President Obama, as all the presidents before him after 1949, will issue just such an official proclamation.

These resolutions and proclamations did not make Flag Day an official national holiday. Rather, it was to be a day of observance and celebration, and of appreciation for the flag and all it stands for.

What do the colors on the flag mean? There is no specific official designation, but the Secretary of the Continental Congress noted that the colors in the Great Seal of the United States were those used in the flag: “White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue... signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”

Why stars and stripes? A book published in 1977 by the House of Representatives said that the star “is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.” (See Though not official, those symbolic ideas are good enough for me.

Last year’s Presidential proclamation, issued on June 11, said the following: “For over 200 years, our flag has proudly represented our Nation and our ideals at home and abroad. It has billowed above monuments and memorials, flown beside the halls of government, stood watch over our oldest institutions, and graced our homes and storefronts. Generations of service members have raised our country's colors over military bases and at sea, and generations of Americans have lowered them to mourn those we have lost. Though our flag has changed to reflect the growth of our Republic, it will forever remain an emblem of the ideals that inspired our great Nation: liberty, democracy, and the enduring freedom to make of our lives what we will.”

I love that sentiment, but the flag means even more than that to me. In my mind it represents my love for the country in which I live — not the kind of love that says “our country can do no wrong,” or that people whose political opinions are different from mine are somehow not good Americans.

Rather, mine is the kind of love that is grateful for the right we have to speak our minds on anything at all (except treason, or to advocate the violent overthrow of the government) — and even to burn the flag, if we are that insensitive to what it really means, without fear of governmental reprisal; the kind of love that is grateful for our right to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience; the kind of love that is grateful for the opportunities most of us have for work, education, and all the other positive things we enjoy — not that these things are not available elsewhere, but simply that they are available here, and that we should not just take them for granted; the kind of love that is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the political process — to vote, hold office, and lead out in political activities without regard to race, creed, gender, or even economic status (there are some restrictions on these things, of course, but not governmental restrictions); the kind of love that is grateful for the physical grandeur of our country — not that this in any way makes the country better than others, but simply because it is the place I live and enjoy and want to spend the majority of my life in.

These and many other things cross my mind when I see the flag being carried in a parade, flown on homes and buildings everywhere on Flag Day (my birthday), and, when I visit other countries, flown from the U.S. embassy, hotels catering to Americans, and other buildings. My heart seems to have a special beat on these occasions, for I am thus one of these who feel deep respect for the flag and what it symbolizes.

This makes me especially concerned that we treat our flag with respect. And that, of course, is why we have certain traditions about displaying the flag — traditions that I think should be honored. They are not laws, but they are certainly important symbolic acts.

According to these traditions, the flag should be displayed from sunrise to sunset, raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously, and not flown in inclement weather (though that tradition is very often breached); it should be displayed on or near the administration building of public institutions, and in or on all polling places on election days, and in or near schoolhouses during school days; when displayed against a wall or a window, the blue field should be uppermost and to the left of the observer; when the flag is passing in review, or being raised or lowered in a public ceremony, everyone should face it with the right hand over his/her heart; and the flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor ever touch anything beneath it.

These things are only gestures, but they represent the kind of feelings I think are important to maintaining our unity as a nation.

On June 14, the scouts in my ward will place flags in the yards of each of the homes in the ward. What a great tradition we have adopted! But I hope that on that same day, and maybe for all of Flag Week, we will also display our personal flags as open signs of our love for America.

There are all kinds of ways to display the flag. I loved what the host of a website I recently visited had to say: “So, let’s talk Flag Day observation. How are you going to partake? Big flags, little flags, flag pins, flag stickers on your bumper, car flags that mount on your window, patriotic decor all over your house or building exterior… so many ways! Mini flags!!! You can do anything with a mini flag! Mini flags can be displayed on your desk or counter space, or feel free to carry and wave a mini flag like a true fan! Definitely express your enthusiasm for our flag, our freedom, and the ever present feeling of American pride.” (

The Pledge of Allegiance is something I also love — partly, I suppose, because I grew up reciting it in school, in scout meetings, and many other places. I like having it recited in school rooms and public gatherings everywhere. It reads:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.”

Some people want to remove the words “under God.” I personally like having those words there, and I do not believe that they violate the Constitution in the way certain critics feel they do. But I am equally concerned about the distorted perspective I sometimes received in notes from students who seemed to think that the removal of this single phrase would somehow undermine the work of the Founders.

The fact is that the Founders did not even envision such a thing as a pledge of allegiance. The original pledge was written in 1892. We are not sure who the author was, but it was written to be recited in the public schools at the celebration the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America.

It appeared in a newspaper in September 8, and in October more than twelve million children all over the nation recited it in school. The original wording was as follows: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” In 1923, the words “my Flag” were replaced by “the flag of the United States of America.” The pledge was not formally written into the U.S. Flag Code until a resolution was approved by Congress in 1942, and the official name, “The Pledge of Allegiance,” was adopted in 1945.

The words “under God” were added by Congress in 1954, when, in response to the Communist threat, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged it. I well remember when that happened. I also remember that I actually felt uncomfortable with the new wording because it did not give the pledge the same “rhythm” that I had been so used to. However, I am used to it now, and I would not like to see it removed.

But if it ever happens that we do go back to the way things were in the beginning, I would not be too disturbed. To me, patriotism is not related just to the words in the pledge, but, rather, to how we feel about our country and what the flag really stands for.

But I also like what President Gordon B. Hinckley once said about the pledge: “We repeat the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States and ‘to the republic for which it stands.’ We say, ‘One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ I pray that we will never forget that we are in very deed a nation under God and that with the strength which comes from Him, we will remain “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 24.)

In addition, I love the way President Hinckley expressed his love for America on various occasions, as put together by the compilers of his Teachings, pages 11-13. I can do no better than to close with what he said:

“I love America for her great and brawny strength, the products of her vital factories, and the science of her laboratories. I love her for the great intellectual capacity of her people. I love her for their generous hearts. I love her for her tremendous spiritual strengths. She is unique among the nations of the earth — in her discovery, in her birth as a nation, in the amalgamation of the races that have come to her shores, in the consistency and strength of her government, in the goodness of her people.

“We first visited Jerusalem long ago, before the 1967 war. It was then a divided city. We retained the services of a guide who was an Arab. We stood on an elevation where we could see the other side of Jerusalem. With tears in his eyes he pointed to the home of which he had been dispossessed. And then he said with deep emotion: ‘You belong to the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Yours is the only nation which has been victorious in war and never claimed any territory as a prize of conquest. Your people have given millions, yes billions, to the poor of the earth and never asked for anything in return.’

“That I learned from a man in Jerusalem. I had never thought of it before. It is tremendously significant. I have stood in the American military cemetery in Suresnes, France, where are buried some who died in the First World War. It is a quiet and hallowed place, a remembrance of great sacrifice ‘to make the world safe for democracy.’ No additional territory was claimed by America as recompense for the sacrifices of those buried there.

“I have stood in reverent awe and wonder in the beautiful American military cemetery on the outskirts of Manila in the Philippines. Here, standing row on row in perfect symmetry, are marble crosses and the Star of David marking the burial places of some 17,000 Americans who lost their lives in the Second World War. Surrounding that sacred ground are stone colonnades on which are incised the names of another 35,000 who were lost in the battles of the Pacific during that terrible conflict. There was victory, but not a claim for territory.

“I have been up and down South Korea from the 38th parallel on the north to Pusan on the south and seen the ridges and the valleys where Americans fought and died, not to save their own land, but to preserve freedom for people who were strangers to them but whom they acknowledged to be brothers under the Fatherhood of God. Not an inch of territory was sought nor added to the area of the United States during that conflict.

“I have been up and down South Vietnam in the days of war, during those years when 55,000 Americans died in the sultry heat of that strange and foreign place fighting in the cause of human liberty without ambition for territory.

“In no instance — in the First World War, in the Second World War, in the Korean War, in the Vietnam struggle — did this nation seize and hold territory for itself as a prize of conquest.

“I love America for the tremendous genius of its scientists, its researchers, its laboratories, its universities, and the tens of thousands of facilities devoted to the increase of human health and comfort, to the sustenance of life, to improved communication and transportation. Its great, throbbing industries have blessed the entire world. The standard of living of its people has been the envy of the entire earth. Its farmlands have yielded an abundance undreamed of in many other places. The entrepreneurial environment in which has grown its industry has been the envy of all nations.

“I love America for its great spiritual strength. It is a land of churches and synagogues, of temples and tabernacles, of pulpits and altars. (Freedom Festival Address, Provo, Utah, June 26, 1988.)

“I believe in America. I am grateful for the Constitution under which this nation lives and moves and has its being. I am profoundly grateful that somehow for more than two centuries of time we have existed as a nation and grown to become the strongest and most free in the entire world. I am grateful for those men whom the God in Heaven raised up and inspired and who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to establish this nation and its government.

“I believe in America — one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We are, of course, not without fault. We have more than our share of crime and of every other evil to be found on the earth. I fear that we have become an arrogant people, but when all is said and done, there is no other nation quite like this nation.” (“Articles of Belief,” Bonneville International Corporation Management Seminar, February 10, 1991.)

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