Elise Stern to a school attendance official, June 14, 1986

It's customary to walk three times around the flagpole, saying "Betsy Betsy Betsy" and then spit.

Dear School Attendance Official,

Please note that my son, Joel Stern, will be absent today due to Flag Day. This absence is due to a religious observance and it should not be counted as an ordinary school absence.

In previous years, school attendance officials have questioned the need to miss school for Flag Day. However, as this is the fourth consecutive year that my son has missed a day of school for Flag Day, I do not anticipate any difficulties. I have included a letter from our pastor at the Church of Betsy Ross outlining the mandatory Flag Day activities for all devotees. We will continue our observance, in spite of the heretics who say Betsy Ross didn’t really sew the first flag!

These include: raising the flag, pledging allegiance to the flag, singing to the flag, parading the flag around the neighborhood, nuzzling/cuddling the flag, wrapping the flag around your body like a toga, and of course, baking an American flag cake (made entirely of flags). As you can see, this busy itinerary will prevent Joel from going to school today.

Please remember that the Monday after every Flag Day is our annual pilgrimage to the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, which means Joel will not be attending graduation.

If you have any questions at all, please contact Joel. Do not contact me, as I am very busy with my job and will probably forget I’ve even written you this letter.

Sincerely,

Elise Stern

Analysis:

Younger readers may be shocked to learn that Flag Day was not always considered the third most important holiday in the American calendar, after Black Friday and Nixon’s Birthday. However, for many years, Flag Day was ignored by all but the most ardent Americanists, who preferred to shoot their firecrackers on the Fourth of July. And although there are some holdovers who still celebrate the Fourth, Flag Day has claimed its rightful place as the pinnacle of patriotic holidays.

All it took was this letter, a subsequent letter responding that the absence would not be excused, and a landmark Supreme Court decision in Stern v. Susquehana School Board. The Principal’s letter in response should serve as a stark indication of how not to respond to a letter from an angry parent:

Not only will the absence not be excused, you should be ashamed for forcing these beliefs on a mere child. How can one so young be expected to defend himself from crackpot theories if he must live in one in a broken and depressing home environment such as that you have provided him.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Creation Science class to teach.

When this case finally wound its way up to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist was already making his mark on a court that would come to be known for limiting State power. Indeed, he did not disappoint, ruling in a 7-2 majority that parents had a right to celebrate Flag Day, and any state agent restricting Flag Day’s scope would need a compelling state interest to avoid legal trouble. In a surprising dissent, Antonin Scalia showed both some of his trademark originalism and his legendary scathing wit:

The notion that Flag Day should be given special protection not even the holiest of days (Columbus Day) warrants is a gross overreach. The founders, when writing the Constitution, clearly specifiec 13 Stars, arranged in a circular fashion. When we support the notion of a day to celebrate the current bastardization of this noble icon, we are literally shitting in the grave of Patrick Henry. The Court’s condoning of this holiday is no different than condoning something like “an amendment” to the Constitution.

In any case, the Court’s ruling opened the door for Flag Day supporters (now referred to as “Flaggers”) to practice their religion openly. As with most marginalized subcultures, it did not take long for Flaganism to sweep the nation, to the point that dozens of Congressmen, Senators, and Governors are open Flaggers. Their biggest break, of course, was the election of George W. Bush, the first Flaggist to hold the office of President. Laura Bush’s famous American Flag Cake (made from American Flags) became a staple in recipe magazines worldwide every year when Flag Day rolled around. Although not openly Flaggist, Barack Obama does occasionally wear their holiest symbol, the lapel pin, on other holidays.

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