Ignoring flag etiquette carries no penalties
At a Stan Sheriff Center event, they raise the national, state and school flags, let's say at 5:30 p.m. Then they lower them after the game is over, let's say 9 p.m. The times may be different for baseball, football, etc. But isn't the American flag considered a "living thing" and needs to be put to rest at sundown? Everybody seems to think they can lower the flags when a place of business closes. Is it criminal to not lower the American and/or state flags at sundown? I say there's a flag code Hawaii abides by. What are the penalties for violations? Who should you call?
Answer: There is a federal flag code that covers every imaginable part of how the American flag should be flown and handled.
But the code mainly prescribes flag "etiquette," not mandates, and there is no penalty attached to "violating" the code.
Regarding when the American flag should or should not be flown, the flag code says: "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."
"Properly illuminated" is not specified.
Regarding flying the flag in bad weather, the code says: "During inclement weather, the flag should not be displayed unless an all-weather flag is used."
Most flags these days are said to be "all weather."
Meanwhile, there currently is no federal penalty for desecrating or mutilating the American flag, although the American Legion and other groups have been lobbying Congress for a constitutional amendment to make it a crime.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional for penalizing someone for desecrating or mutilating the American flag, saying it restricted the right to free speech.
However, each state is able to pass its own laws regarding the flag. Most states, including Hawaii, do have laws against desecrating the flag or using it for advertising.
According to the First Amendment Center -- www.firstamendmentcenter.org/Speech/flagburning/topic.aspx?topic=flag _statelaws -- the Supreme Court has not struck down flag-desecration laws in states where they are "part of general safety and welfare laws -- such as those criminalizing trespass, arson and rioting -- that place at most an incidental and permissible burden on free speech."
In Hawaii, Chapter 711-1107 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes deals with desecration. It says someone commits the offense of desecration if he or she "intentionally desecrates" any public monument or structure, a place of worship or burial or "in a public place the national flag or any other object of veneration by a substantial segment of the public."
Desecration is defined as "defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating" the specified object "in a way that the defendant knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover" the action.
In 2002, following the still-unsolved cases of vandalism at various Oahu cemeteries, the Legislature decided to increase the penalty for the misdemeanor offense of desecration to a maximum term of one year in prison and/or a fine of $10,000.
According to legislative committee reports at the time, "the Legislature believed that a burial place or grave deserved no less a penalty for damage than did a historical monument." The fine for desecrating historic property was already $10,000.
More on emergency alerts
Regarding how local TV stations send out emergency weather alerts (Kokua Line, April 2
), David Soon, technical director at KGMB-TV, pointed out that the Federal Communications Commission also has regulations regarding how those alerts are broadcast.
Soon, noting there is a lot of confusion regarding what broadcasters are required to do with Emergency System Alerts, searched FCC rules and learned that the FCC has a Disability Rights Office that requires that "any emergency alerts that we broadcast visually also needs to be accompanied by an aural alert or tone or message."
At KGMB, the directive is, "If we do transmit an emergency message, there should be an audio message to accompany the video. The audio can be a tone."
Furthermore, according to the Disability Rights Office, Soon pointed out, "A video crawl should be at the top of the screen so closed captions will not interfere with it."
As Hawaii State Civil Defense officials told us, broadcasters are required to send out national, or presidential, emergency messages, but it's up to them to decide whether to transmit local and state emergency alerts.
The state has no requirements as to how those emergency alerts are broadcast.
Got a question or complaint?
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