The United States Flag Code states the rules of flag etiquette, display, and handling.. Heartfelt respect and reverence cannot be compelled by law so the flag code is voluntary. There are penalties for knowingly desecrating the flag; but there is the question of free speech.
In 1988 the Supreme Court upheld Texas v. Johnson that had determined burning the flag was a form of free speech.The 1990 “Flag Protection Act” imposed a federal ban on flag desecration. The
Supreme Court in U.S. v. Eichman decided that this act was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. Four attempts since 1995 to circumvent the Supreme Court’s rulings with constitutional amendments banning desecration of the flag have failed. A more complete treatment of the subject is availble in this Congressional Report Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendment – PDF file
We teach our Scouts that respect for the flag is not simply the veneration of an object but reverence for the principles it symbolizes. The tension between freedom and respect, reverence and critical thinking is an important lesson and a lively discussion. That the flag represents principles that would conscience it’s own destruction is a powerful exemplification of tolerance, freedom and the complexities of an open society.