United States Flag Code
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The United States Flag Code establishes advisory rules for display and care of the national flag of the United States of America. It is Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code (4 U.S.C. § 1 et seq). This is a U.S. federal law, but the penalty described in Title 18 of the United States Code (18 U.S.C. § 700) for failure to comply with it is not enforced. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Eichman that prohibiting burning of the U.S. flag conflicts with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and is therefore unconstitutional.
This etiquette is as applied within U.S. jurisdiction. In other countries and places, local etiquette applies.
Summary of the Code
- The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, unless it is the ensign responding to a salute from a ship of a foreign nation. This is sometimes misreported as a tradition that comes from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where countries were asked to dip their flag to King Edward VII; American team flag bearer Ralph Rose did not follow this protocol, and teammate Martin Sheridan is often, though apocryphally, quoted as proclaiming that "this flag dips before no earthly king."
- When a flag is so tattered that it no longer fits to serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, the military and other organizations regularly conduct dignified flag-burning ceremonies.
- No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
- The flag should never touch anything beneath it. Contrary to an urban legend, the flag code does not state that a flag that touches the ground should be burned. Instead, it is considered disrespectful and the flag in question should be moved in such a manner that it is no longer touching the ground.
- The flag should always be permitted to fall freely. (An exception was made during the Apollo moon landings when the flag hung from a vertical pole designed with an extensible horizontal bar, allowing full display even in the absence of an atmosphere.)
Prior to Flag Day, June 14, 1923, neither the federal government nor the states had official guidelines governing the display of the United States' flag. On that date, the National Flag Code was constructed by representatives of over 68 organizations, under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion. The code drafted by that conference was printed by the national organization of the American Legion and given nationwide distribution.
On June 22, 1942, the Code became Public Law 77-623; chapter 435. Little had changed in the code since the Flag Day 1923 Conference. The most notable change was the removal of the Bellamy salute due to its similarities to the Hitler salute.
The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 prohibits real estate management organizations from restricting homeowners from displaying the Flag of the United States on their own property.
The Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007 added a provision to fly the flag at half-staff upon the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who died while serving on active duty. It also gave the mayor of the District of Columbia the authority to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff. Federal facilities in the area covered by the governor or mayor of the District of Columbia will also fly the flag at half-staff as directed.
The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (Sec. 595.) allows the military salute for the flag during the national anthem by members of the Armed Forces not in uniform and by veterans.
Notes and references
- Goldstein, Robert J. (28 June 2006) "Flag-burning overview". firstamendmentcenter.org.
- Mallon, Bill ; Buchanan, Ian "To no earthly king...", Journal of Olympic History - September 1999, pp. 21–28
- Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. "Flag disposal", www.snopes.com. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
- Military.com "U.S. Flag Code"
- Platoff, Anne M. (1993) "Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon". NASA. Retrieved: October 22, 2010.
- Section 7, Pub.L. 77−623, 56 Stat. 380, Chap. 435, H.J.Res. 303, enacted June 22, 1942. (WITH the Bellamy Salute)
- Section 7, Pub.L. 77−829, 56 Stat. 1074, Chap. 806, H.J.Res. 359, enacted December 22, 1942. (WITHOUT the Bellamy Salute)
- "Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007". Acts of the 110th United States Congress by United States Congress. June 29, 2007. Retrieved September 24, 2009.
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- Full text of United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, available at Cornell University Law School.
- TATTERED: Investigation of an American Icon is a documentary photo essay, investigating the principle identity, misuse, commodification and desecration of the American flag in the context of the U.S. Flag Code.
- “God for Harry! England and Saint George! The Evolution of the Sacred Flag and the Modern Nation-State" is a study of the flag code as a sacred symbol, special issue of The Flag Bulletin, No.191, Vol.39, No.1 (January–February 2000).