Hege Library & Learning Technologies

Guilford College, Quakers, and Flag Flying

Background information on flag displays at Guilford College and related practices among the Society of Friends (Quakers).

U.S. Flag Code

Excerpts from The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions - http://1.usa.gov/1UpTlZf

When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff (cf. H).

Respect for the Flag:

  1. The flag should never be displayed with union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

  2. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

  3. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

History of Flags at Guilford College

1906: George Washington's birthday on February 22 was marked with the raising of the United States flag. "Gently and gracefully if waved in the breeze all day long, seeming to understand its duty and the honor it bore within its hues..." [Guilford Collegian, March 1906, p. 206].

1909: Only known picture of the flag flying from a pole at Guilford College. The pole appears to be located on the south side of what is now known as Duke Hall.

1987: According to the 1987 history of the college, "...it has always been the tradition of Quakers to avoid flags and patriotic symbolism. In later years student and alumni groups would try to secure a flag pole, but without success. Today, the American flag as well as flags representing the country of origin of every international student on campus hang from the rafters of the Ragan-Brown Field House."

Quaker Views on Flags

Excerpts from essay by Max Carter (see full essay here):

Historically, a Quaker meetinghouse is austerely plain, the very absence of crosses, stained glass, pulpits, and other traditional religious symbols and decorations speaking volumes about central principles of the Religious Society of Friends.  At the heart of spiritual reality for Friends is the experience of the living Presence of God (also referred to as the Light of Christ, the Inward Light, the Seed, or “that of God”), leading, guiding, and directing, making unnecessary for Friends any physical symbols of that Reality.
A symbol is a material object which represents something immaterial.  The Quaker experience of God’s Spirit, of the Presence of Christ, in their silent worship and in their daily lives renders insufficient and redundant the use of symbols, as the Real is directly accessible.

This is most clearly seen in Quaker attitudes about the symbol of the Lord’s Supper, which is not observed in its outward form in Quaker worship.  In Protestant worship, Communion symbolizes the Presence of Christ or recalls Christ in the historical Jesus.  In Quaker thought, Christ is present as teacher, priest, prophet, and Redeemer.  Friends commune with that Real Presence in their silent worship, learn from it, and are empowered by it to harmonize their lives around God’s guidance.  No outward form or symbol is necessary, as the Real is directly experienced.

So, what does this have to do with Friends and the flag?  Everything.

Friends have a long tradition of eschewing the symbolic in favor of direct experience of that which others symbolize.  For many Friends, this theological concept carries over into attitudes about secular symbols such as the flag.  If the flag as symbol represents immaterial values, what are they?

We are told that those values include, among others, freedom, religious pluralism, democracy, respect for human dignity, and hope for the oppressed.  Friends seek to incorporate those values into their lives rather than represent them in a symbol.  Guilford College has long chosen to live those values in its campus culture rather than represent them by flying the flag of the United States on campus.  Where the US flag is displayed at Guilford, it is displayed (in the Ragan-Brown Fieldhouse) along with the flag of the United Nations.  Other flags of the countries from which our students come are displayed electronically in the Hege Library.

Draft Statement on Flags at Guilford, 1990

Draft Statement on the Use of Flags at Guilford College, 1990. Provides overview of how the Society of Friends (Quakers) have historically rejected outward symbols and why Guilford does not fly a U.S. flag on athletics fields or elsewhere on campus. Instead, since 1983 the college displayed flags in the field house from a number of nations to recognize the international character of the student body.