Flag Code, Etiquette and Laws


Our nation reveres the flag, not out of a sense of unquestioning worship but out of a deep sense of our national heritage. Strengthened by our noble deeds, splendid accomplishments, and untold sacrifices, the flag reflects America's pledge to uphold Freedom and work for peace throughout the world. It is America's strength in honor, as dignified in the stars and stripes of the flag, which helps to establish the moral character of our national foundation.

The flag, endearingly referred to as "Old Glory," represents all people of America. We, the people, are America. It is little wonder that the people of America are moved when saluting the flag is it passes by, reminding us that we are a part of this great land. We are "one nation under God."

Its unfurled banner, which symbolizes the love and pride that we have as a nation, is a poignant reminder of America's greatness and our fortune to live in a country which values freedom above all else. It signifies the commitment made by our fallen comrades who battled bravely to defend the honor of this sacred emblem - our American unity, our power, and our purpose as a nation, and it exemplifies the devotion of our leaders who continue to uphold its promise of liberty, justice and freedom for all.

Nothing evokes such strong emotion as seeing the flag, either a ceremony honoring a great event or draped over the coffin of a military veteran as a sign of mourning for a hero and a loved one.

The Flag Code

Previous to Flag Day, June 14, 1923 there were no federal or state regulations governing display of the United States Flag. It was on this date that the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference which was attended by representatives of the Army and Navy which had evolved their own procedures, and some 66 other national groups. This purpose of providing clear guidance based on the Army and Navy procedures relating to display and associated questions about the U. S. Flag was adopted by all organizations in attendance.

A few minor changes were made a year later during the Flag Day 1924 Conference, It was not until June 22, 1942 that Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included.

This code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does not impose any penalties, neither civil or criminal for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.

Criminal penalties for certain acts of desecration to the flag were contained in Title 18 of the United States Code prior to 1989. The Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson; June 21, 1989, held the statute unconstitutional. This statute was amended when the Flag Protection Act of 1989 (Oct. 28, 1989) imposed a fine and/or up to I year in prison for knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor or trampling upon any flag of the United States. The Flag Protection Act of 1989 was struck down by the Supreme Court decision, United States vs. Eichman, decided on June 11, 1990.

While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to issue 'official' rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups. Consequently, different interpretations of various provisions of the Code may continue to be made. The Flag Code may be fairly tested: 'No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United States of America.' Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.

With Liberty and justice for All

flag variationsEven before the American Revolution, flags bearing the familiar red and white stripes, which symbolize the unity of the original 13 colonies of America, began to appear. These stripes were later combined with the British Union Jack to produce the Continental flag that flew over George Washington's headquarters during the siege of Boston.

Grand Union Flag (1775 - 1777)

Although it is not exactly clear who created it and when, a new colonial flag was raised on January 1, 1776, at the camp of the Continental Army near Boston. Known as the Grand Union flag, Continental Union flag, or simply the Union flag, this banner featured the British Union Jack as a canton on a field of 13 red and white stripes representing the 13 colonies. The symbolism apparently carried a double message--loyalty to Great Britain but unity of the American colonies.

In November 1775, the Continental Congress voted funds for a fleet of four ships to protect the southern colonies. One of the ships is known to have flown the Grand Union flag. It is likely that during the early years of the Revolution, American ships flying this flag docked at Savannah or sailed in the coastal waters off Georgia's mainland.

Almost a year passed after the Declaration of Independence was signed before a new flag was adopted by the Congress. But variations in the flag were persistent, and changes continued during much of the 19th century. The Flag Act of 1818 fixed the number of horizontal stripes at 13, and gave the President the authority to determine the star arrangement. The now-familiar stars and stripes were not carried into battle by the United States Army until the Mexican War.

Finally, in 1912, an executive order was established which defined the design of the flag, including the star arrangement. Later, when Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union, stars representing those states were added to the flag, adapting the traditional horizontal arrangement.

American involvement in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II stimulated patriotic sentiments and interest in the flag. In 1942, Congress established rules and customs concerning the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

The years since World War II have seen the refinement of various laws and regulations concerning the flag. Today, it has become an accepted part of the decoration of most public buildings and a symbol regarded as appropriate to almost any setting where citizens gather.

Pledge to the Flag

flag pledge"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the "REPUBLIC" for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

After first appearing in a copy of the Youth's Companion in 1892, as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, the pledge to the flag received the official recognition of Congress on June 22, 1942. The phrase, "under God," was added to the pledge by Congress on June 14, 1954, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said that "in this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

Red Skelton, during the presentation of his CBS television show on the night of January 14, 1969, read his version of the "Pledge of Allegiance" to the flag. He immediately received 200,000 requests for it, he recorded it and the record was widely played throughout the country. Skelton had learned his adaptation of the pledge as a schoolboy in Vincennes, Indiana. The teacher felt his pupils were bored reciting the pledge every morning (times haven't changed much), so he decided to explain to his students what the lines they were mumbling meant.

"I"— me, an individual, a committee of one.

"Pledge"— dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.

"Allegiance" — my love and devotion.

"To the Flag" — our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom.  Wherever she waves, there is respect because your loyalty has given her dignity that shouts freedom is everybody's job.

"Of the united" — that means that we have all come together

"States" — individual communities that have united into 50 great states.  Fifty communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided by imaginary boundaries, yet common purpose and that’s love for country.

"Of America"— Home of the Brave and Land of the Free.

"And to the Republic" — a state in which limited Sovereign Power is granted to representatives chosen by the people who govern.  And government is the people and it's representatives chosen by the people who govern.  And government is the people and it's from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.

"For which it stands" — flying proudly, never touching the ground or displayed below other flags.

"One nation under GOD" — meaning so blessed by GOD.

"Indivisible" — incapable of being divided.

"With Liberty" — which is freedom and the RIGHTS or power to live one's own life without threats or fear of some sort of retaliation.

"And justice" — the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.

"For all" — which means it's as much your country as it is mine.

When rendering the pledge of allegiance, persons should stand at attention, face the flag, and, if in uniform, salute, or otherwise place the RIGHT hand over the heart. Persons wearing the caps of veterans' service organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans, are expected to salute. Others, such as Boy or Girl Scouts in uniform, should render respect to the flag in accordance with the traditions of the organization whose uniform they are wearing.

Our National Anthem

The "Star Spangled Banner" has been designated as the national anthem of the United States of America. During the playing of the anthem when the flag is displayed, persons not in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with their RIGHT hand over their heart. Those in uniform should begin saluting the flag at the first note of the music, and hold the salute until the last note of the anthem is played. This also applies to those wearing veterans' organization caps or the uniforms of other patriotic organizations.

The "Star Spangled Banner" was a poem originally titled "The Defense of Fort McHenry" and was written by Francis Scott Key on September 20, 1814 :

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Displaying the Flag

displaying flagWhen displaying the flag, it is important to remember certain guidelines of proper flag etiquette. They are: