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Naval use of the Christian pennant

Last modified: 2013-11-16 by rob raeside
Keywords: christian | church pennant | pennant | pennant: ship |
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In the US Navy, when a church service is under way, a church pennant (white with blue cross) is traditionally flown above the US flag.
Miles Li, 21 August 2003

The Flag Code expressly allows an exception for the church pennant to fly above the Stars and Stripes during religious services conducted by a naval chaplain at sea. The church pennant exception has itself been an issue of contention on both "separation of church and state" and "honor of the national flag" grounds. Even before the Flag Code, there were (unsuccessful) attempts in Congress to prohibit the Navy by law from flying the church pennant above the national ensign.
Joe McMillan, 21 August 2003

I have never seen a US vessel flying the church pennant, but in my own [South African] and the British Royal Navy the church pennant is flown from the starboard yardarm during services on board. Physically this might be higher than the naval ensign/national flag. In reality, however, the ensign flying at the ensign staff right aft, is in the position of honour in the ship. Ceremonially therefore, the church pennant is not above the ensign or national flag in the sense that it is in a superior position. Andre Burgers, 21 August 2003

This argument is sound with regard to British and British-derived practice, but this must be one of the few cases where USN ceremonial practice diverges significantly from RN. In the USN, the church pennant flies immediately above the ensign, whether at the flagstaff on the stern or at the gaff of the aftermost mast. I've never seen it in person, but I have seen photographs, and the USN directive on "Flags, Pennants and Customs" is very clear that the church pennant (or Jewish worship pennant) is hoisted at the flagstaff or gaff on a separate halyard from the ensign and the ensign is lowered clear. Strange but true.
Joe McMillan, 21 August 2003