Photo: Old Farmer's Almanac
YES, VIRGINIA! THERE IS REALLY A GOVERNMENT FLAG CODE
Why are you not surprised? We have laws and codes for just about everything imaginable.
True to form, there are conflicting references to the law itself. USFlag.org references Public Law 829 as the "Flag Code."
However, in a congressional document entitled The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions [April 14, 2008] states: "This report presents, verbatim, the United States in Title 4 of the United States Code and the section of Title 36 which designates the Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem and provides instructions on how to display the flag…"
Who knew? But onward we go.
Another reference on the website https://www.legion.org/flag/flagmyths says, "The 77th Congress adopted this codification of rules as public law on June 22, 1942. It is Title 4, United States Code Chapter 1."
THE MEANING OF THE US FLAG
While the code doesn't articulate any definition of what the flag is supposed to mean, it is generally thought of as representing the patriotic ideals and spiritual qualities of the citizens of the US, and the principles of liberty, justice, and humanity.
Most American know a little about the US flag. Some remember that the thirteen stripes in white and red represent the thirteen colonies and the stars on the field of blue [originally 13 and now 50] represent the union of the states under one federal government. And we all have heard, been taught, or learned, that Betsy sewed the first US Flag.
There are a number of myths, or at least misinterpretations, related to the US Flag.
● Betsy Ross made the first American Flag.
That's what I was taught back in the day. And back then, if it was in print, it had to be correct. Right?
Conceptual portrait of Betsy Ross – Artist Unknown
Actually, there is no historic evidence that Elizabeth Claypoole [her maiden name] was involved in either the design or production of the flag that made its debut in 1777. It appears that this myth found fertile ground in 1870 when Betsy Ross' grandson, William Canby, first made this claim [100 years after the fact]. It's true that Ross made flags in Philadelphia in the late 1770, along with many other women, but most historians now believe the story about the first flag as pure legend.
● The Red, White, and Blue Colors Symbolize American Sacrifice.
Nothing in the statues mentions an official reason or explanation for the colors. When people say the colors symbolize something, they are probably referring to the explanation given by Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, about the meaning of the colors in the Great Seal of the United States which are also red, white, and blue. Thomson's report to the Congress in 1782, says the "white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue … signified vigilance, preservation, and justice."
It was illegal until 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Texas v. Johnson that burning the flag is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court’s decision invalidated a 1968 national flag-desecration law, as well as similar laws in 48 states (all except Wyoming and Alaska). In response, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act, but that law was also challenged and wound up in the Supreme Court. The court in 1990 essentially affirmed its earlier ruling, stating that any law banning flag burning violated free speech.
● It's Okay to wear clothing displaying the Stars and Strips
Wait! Don't buy that T-shirt yet. The US Flag Code states the flag "should not" be displaying on any article of merchandise. [Other references use the words are "Shall never".]
“Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who, within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any purpose….”
That’s pretty clear, although I wonder what the rationale is for just the District of Columbia. However, along comes US Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8 (d).
“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free….”
● The US Has 51 [or 52] States.
The good old USA has only 50 states. The last one added was Hawaii in 1959. Apparently, some people [mostly outside the US] believe that the federal District of Columbia, Washington DC, is a state, which it is not. Others may include the unincorporated territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa, to name a few. The USA has more than 14 territories, 5 of them with permanent, nonmilitary populations.
The flag code does prohibit the display a US flag with fewer than 50 states.
● The Flag Cannot be displayed after dark.
The Flag Code states: It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during hours of darkness.
In addition the flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise. Also, the flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.