Are Flags Just a Piece of Cloth, or Are They a Powerful Symbol of Something Greater?

This week is Flag Day, June 14. To Americans, the US Flag is an evocative image. It’s a symbol of our freedom, and of what others have sacrificed to ensure it. It can also be a symbol of protest. The US Supreme Court famously confirmed the right to burn the flag as an act of free speech, and nearly no one has missed the recent debate over standing versus kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events.

Non-national flags are powerful symbols, too. They represent ideals, movements, and aspirations. Even national flags can come to represent controversial issues, as the recent kneeling controversy in football reminded everyone.

No one can deny that flags are powerful symbols. Here are quotes that reflect on the power of flags to rouse passions, one way or another:

1. “The stars and stripes were fluttering bright against the rain, clear blue overhead, and their minds were saying the words before their ears heard them.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. “I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love.” ― President Barack Obama

3. “I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.” ― Senator John Thune

4. “A true flag is not something you can really design. A true flag is torn from the soul of the people. A flag is something that everyone owns, and that’s why they work. The Rainbow Flag is like other flags in that sense: it belongs to the people.” ― Gilbert Baker

5. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” ― Colin Kaepernick

6. “Every red stripe in that flag represents the black man’s blood that has been shed.” ― Fannie Lou Hamer

7. “I long to be in the Field again, doing my part to keep the old flag up, with all its stars.” ― Joshua Chamberlain

8. “I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.” ― Craig Washington

9. “The American flag represents all of us and all the values we hold sacred.” ― Adrian Cronauer

10. “Standing as I do, with my hand upon this staff, and under the folds of the American flag, I ask you to stand by me so long as I stand by it.” ― President Abraham Lincoln

11. “I don’t judge others. I say if you feel good with what you’re doing, let your freak flag fly.” ― Sarah Jessica Parker

12. “There is a strong tendency in the United States to rally round the flag and their troops, no matter how mistaken the war.” ― George McGovern

13. “America has been the country of my fond election from the age of thirteen, when I first saw it. I had the honour to hoist with my own hands the flag of freedom, the first time it was displayed, on the Delaware; and I have attended it with veneration ever since on the ocean.” ― John Paul Jones

14. “I just bought a Jeep painted like an American flag. No one better question how patriotic I am.” ― Blake Anderson

15. “When I see the Confederate flag, I see the attempt to raise an empire in slavery. It really, really is that simple. I don’t understand how anybody with any sort of education on the Civil War can see anything else.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates

16. “I’m proud of the U.S.A. We’ve done some amazing things. To wear our flag in the Olympics is an honor.” ― Shaun White

17. “Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. It could be semaphore. And burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea – I hate the government, the government is unjust, whatever.” ― Antonin Scalia

18. “I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way.” ― Megan Rapinoe

19. “If a jerk burns the flag, America is not threatened, democracy is not under siege, freedom is not at risk.” ― Gary Ackerman

20. “I savored my time on top of the podium by watching the American flag rise up out of the crowd as the anthem played, thinking about how every single second of training I’ve done was for this minute and how many people played a role in my achievement.” ― Hannah Kearney

21. “In most countries, you have a monarch or some other principal person to whom its officers and its military swear their allegiance. Our officials in this country and our military swear allegiance to the Constitution. We say that when we say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag”. ― Edwin Meese

22. “For any athlete growing up, the Olympics is the one thing you watch with your family, and it’s the one thing you dream about. Seeing your country’s flag go up as you get a gold medal is the best thing you can achieve.” ― Abby Wambach

23. “I can take the steel guitars and fiddles off, we can make it a little more pop, cover ideas that are a little less cowboy. But you got to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, whose flag you are under? For Garth Brooks, I’m steel, fiddles, red, white and blue.” ― Garth Brooks

24. “If anyone, then, asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him – it means just what Concord and Lexington meant; what Bunker Hill meant; which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known – the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

25. “Our flag means all that our fathers meant in the Revolutionary War. It means all that the Declaration of Independence meant. It means justice. It means liberty. It means happiness…. Every color means liberty. Every thread means liberty. Every star and stripe means liberty.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

26. “There is not a thread in it but scorns self-indulgence, weakness and rapacity.” ― Charles Evans Hughes

27. “We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home… But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.” ― Calvin Coolidge

28. “‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country’s flag,’” she said. ― John Greenleaf Whittier

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