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US flags are currently banned at Arlington National Cemetery – 21 Congressmembers are trying to change that

Arlington National Cemetery in 2014. (SSG Sean K. Harp/Defense Department)
January 31, 2019

This week, a group of 21 members of Congress moved to change policy that has banned American flag displays at Arlington National Cemetery since 2006.

Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York penned the letter on Wednesday, which 20 other Republican Congress members signed, addressed to Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery Katherine Kelley and Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, in an effort to overturn the 2006 ban.

“In 2006, the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act was signed into law in an attempt to terminate the repugnant protests taking place at fallen service members’ funerals. Ironically, in the struggle to abolish disrespectful behavior within the cemetery, this policy has also prevented the way many Americans instinctively honor and remember our veterans – by proudly waving our American flag,” the letter said.

The 2006 law had some exceptions for flag displays, which permits them to accompany headstones and grave markers to this day. The law specifically permits flags if they are displayed in funerals, memorial services, or other ceremonies, Fox News reported in 2017.

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The law originated from a bill introduced by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers as a solution to the disruptive protests and offensive banners carried by Westboro Baptist Church members.

It was never intended to ban flags displayed with good intentions, yet the broad language included in the law did just that.

However, the broad ban of all flags narrowly avoids any violations to the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“We strongly urge you to promptly revise cemetery policy and to lift the ban on visitors displaying the U.S. flag. Disrespectful behavior of any kind, including demonstrations at funerals can and must remain banned while restoring the right of proud Americans to display our nation’s flag when they visit one of our country’s most sacred sites,” the Congress members’ letter added.

Further, the ban is also effective at other military sites. The law outlines distance restrictions that prohibit any unauthorized displays within 500 feet of cemeteries, and both 120 minutes before and after any funeral, memorial, or ceremonial service.

“Arlington National Cemetery as you both well know serves as a shrine for more than 400,000 former service members and their families, who have honorably served our nation during times of war and peace,” the Congress members’ letter explained. “In honoring these service members, the cemetery has grown to one of our nation’s largest symbols of patriotism and commitment to our great country.”

“Old Glory, however, remains a prohibited item for visitors of Arlington National Cemetery,” the letter said. “As a nation and as proud citizens, we owe it to each and every service member interred at Arlington to promptly revise this policy.”