You just might be surprised to learn that one of the most common displays of patriotism – waving the American flag – is technically banned at one of the most sacred places in America- Arlington National Cemetery. 


That’s because a 2006 law, 38 U.S. code § 2413, known as the “Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act,” which banned protests at funerals held at Arlington Cemetery and the 135 burial grounds run by the National Cemetery Administration, made it illegal to conduct a “demonstration” on the grounds. In the bill, a “demonstration” included “the display of any placard, banner, flag, or similar device, unless such a display is part of a funeral, memorial service, or ceremony.”

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The law doesn’t ban all American flags in all circumstances. It allows such displays if they are “part of a funeral, memorial service, or ceremony” – which explains how tiny flags are posted by headstones and markers for Memorial Day and other ceremonies.


The Daily Wire reports that the creation of the law was triggered after former U.S. Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-MI) became incensed when mourners at a military burial were confronted  by “chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard” from members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church. Those members, who felt God had punished the United States for tolerating homosexuality, brandished  posters with messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” insinuating that the dead soldiers were God’s punishment of America.


Thus, Rogers sponsored the bill, telling the Associated Press, “Families deserve the time to bury their American heroes with dignity and in peace.” The bill passed the House 408 to 3; the Senate passed the bill unanimously.


The resulting bill banned such protests at Arlington and dozens of other sites – but according to Rowland, was written broadly to avoid violating First Amendment rights.

Arlington spokeswoman Barbara Lewandrowski pointed out that before Memorial Day, members of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place small flags in front of the cemetery’s 280,000-plus headstones and burial markers. They are permitted within the scope of the law. She told The Washington Post,  “Arlington National Cemetery staff works diligently to honor and respect all families who come to pay their respects to loved ones and we tirelessly ensure a safe and peaceful environment for our visitors.”

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, echoed, “There is no more patriotic and revered place in America than Arlington National Cemetery. But being a military installation, rules must still be abided by.”

You learn something new every day!


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