Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Another Open Letter to Brad Cole

This letter was submitted to the Carbondale Times (which never printed it) on March 28, 2007, and to the Southern Illinoisian on April 11, 2007.

Mayor Cole,

During your 2003 campaign for Mayor, the Carbondale Times published a letter from me informing you that using the American flag in political advertising was against Federal law, and was disrespectful to the flag and to those veterans who fought and died under it. I presume you read my letter, because the offending sign was taken down shortly thereafter. 4 USC Sec. 8, entitled “Respect for the Flag,” states: “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”

Nonetheless, once again, a massive banner—apparently the exact same one that prompted my letter in 2003—displays your name next to a gigantic American flag. The fact that you did not destroy that sign after you took it down in 2003 shows that you were only cynically responding to negative publicity, not acting out of genuine respect for our flag and our country. Now you bring it out again, presuming that we have forgotten, in the interim, that it is both illegal and disrespectful to use the flag in advertising.

There are no enforcement provisions for this Federal law; no Flag Police will show up at your door. The law merely lays out what is proper treatment for our flag. As a National Guardsman and a Desert Storm veteran, I have served proudly under our flag for many years. It disturbs and upsets me to see elected officials gratuitously and disrespectfully using the symbol of our Nation for personal political gain.

Shame on you, Mr. Cole.

Jim Syler

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I'm a little surprised to learn the flag cannot be used in political advertising. The section of code you cites "advertising," but that might mean "for profit advertising." Can you provide any additional details?
You're welcome to check the code yourself (, but the snippet I posted (which is the entire relevant section) seems pretty clear: The flag is not to be used in any advertising at all. Ever. Period. What's strange about that? To do otherwise would be to imply that America itself endorses some political candidate over another.
The code seems clear, yet there are flags all over political advertisements in presidential years (or maybe my memory is faulty). I can't imagine no one has ever neglected to raise the issue elsewhere, so that made me wonder if political advertisements (i.e., political speech) is treated differently. I'd imagine one would have to dig through case law to know for sure.

In any case, no need to be defensive. Your post made me curious and I don't think I attacked you.

I believe what you see all the time is bunting, that red, white, and blue streamer stuff. That's perfectly legal, and okay. It just says "I'm patriotic," not "I'm endorsed by America." Also--and this may seem a nitpicky point, but that's the law for you...a "Flag" is rectangular, and has horizontal stripes and a square blue field, etc.. Those "wavy flag" images you see don't actualy count as flags themselves; they're representations of flags, and legal. Don't blame me, I didn't write the law. But that's how it is. The image on Cole's sign is definitely a flag by the definition in the code.
P.S. There can't be any case law on this, seeing as there are, quite deliberately, no enforcement provisions. So there's no way to get a case on this statute into court, that I know of.
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