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  Mike Todd

American Flag Code

Many countries around the world, including the UK, have some form of Flag Code. In some it carries the weight of law while in others it is simple guidance on when and how the country's flag should be flown.

In the United States in 1942, President FD Roosevelt condensed the various customs and rules that already existed (including provisions adopted by the National Flag Conference nearly 20 years earlier) into Joint Resolution 303. This eventually became codified in various sections of the United States Code, the compilation of Federal laws of a "general and permanent nature".

Title 4 of the Code concerns itself largely with administrative issues. Chapter 2, for instance, dictates who should have custody of the US Seal and how it should be used, while Chapter 3 specifies that the seat of government shall be in the District of Columbia. Chapter 1 is mainly about the flag, and it provides penalties of up to $100 and/or 30 days imprisonment for certain abuses of the flag provided that they take place in the District of Columbia (although many States have their own legislation). There also used to be offences relating to the desecration and mutilation of the flag, but these were removed in 1968.

In 1989, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act. This provided Federal penalties for desecration and mutilation of the flag, but it did not last long. Following an appeal which went to the Supreme Court in 1990, it was ruled that the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional in that it restricted the right of free speech (although the penalties of Title 4 mentioned above still remain).

The bulk of how the flag should be treated was contained in Title 36 (Patriotic Societies and Observations), but in 1998 President Clinton's government recodified the Flag Code, basically tagging the eight relevant sections of Title 36 onto Title 4, Chapter 1. However, the section relating to the National Anthem (specifying what it is, and the conduct during its rendition) remains in Title 36.

As they now stand (mid-2004) the ten sections are formally given as:

1 Flag; stripes and stars on
2 Same; additional stars
3 Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag
4 Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery
5 Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs; definition
6 Time and occasions for display
7 Position and manner of display
8 Respect for flag
9 Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag
10 Modification of rules and customs by President

The details of these sections are as follows (note that, although I've tried to keep the specific sense of the original, considerable simplifications have been made in some places to make it easier to read):

1 Flag; stripes and stars on
The flag shall consist of 13 horizontal stripes, alternating red and white, and a union of 48 stars, white on a blue field. [Executive Orders later added a much more specific definition of the design, including exact dimensions and an illustration]

2 Same; additional stars
Whenever a new State is admitted to the Union, one star shall be added to the union to take effect from the 4th July following its admission.

3 Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag
Anyone in the District of Columbia who places any mark or image on the flag for exhibition or display, or who displays such a flag, or who makes or possesses any item of merchandise (or anything which contains merchandise) on which is placed a representation of the flag, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and subject to a fine of $100 and/or 30 days imprisonment. [An additional section which included in the above anyone who publicly mutilate, defaced, trampled upon or cast contempt upon the Flag, was removed in 1968]

4 Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery
The Pledge shall be "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" and rendered while standing at attention, facing the Flag, and with the right hand over the heart. Those in uniform should render the military salute while those not in uniform should remove any non-religious headgear and hold it in their right hand at their left shoulder.

[This has been a very controversial subject. In 1943, before the words "under God" were added, the Supreme Court held that a compulsory flag salute (which existed in a number of States' legislation) violated the First Amendment rights of Jehova's Witnesses. In 1954, federal statute added the words "under God" which was thought by many to violate the First Amendment (which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"). In 2002, a panel of judges held that a California school policy which combined the wording with a compulsory requirement to recite the pledge did together violate the First Amendment but the judgement was subsequently modified to limit its scope to the California policy. The judges in this last instance pointed out that if "under God" was unconstitutional then Article VII of the Constitution, which contains the words "in the year or our Lord" was also unconstituional and so the Constitution was actually in violation of itself! The legislation also states that "the Office of the Law Revision Consel shall show in the historical and statutory notes that the 107th Congress
reaffirmed the exact language that has appeared in the Pledge for decades.]

5 Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs; definition
Specifies that the what follows is for the use of civilians and civilian organisations which are not required to conform with regulations from executive departments.

6 Time and occasions for display
a) The flag is usually flown in the open from sunrise to sunset. But, provided that it is properly illuminated, the flag can be displayed 24 hours a day if a "patriotic effect" is desire.
b) The flag should be hoisted briskly, and lowered ceremoniously
c) The flag should not be displayed in inclement weather unless it is an "all weather" flag.
d) The flag should particularly be displayed on public holidays, State birthdays, State holidays, and on days promulgated by the President.
e) The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.
f) The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.
g) The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.

7 Position and manner of display
When carried in a procession with other flags the flag should be either on the marching right or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the centre of that line.
(a) The flag should not be displayed on a float except from a staff.
(b) The flag should not be draped over part of a vehicle, train or boat. When displayed on a car the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
(c) No other flag should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag. The exception is during certain navy church services. Within the United States, no international flag (including that of the United Nations, except at its headquarters) shall be placed equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag.
(d) When it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs the US flag should be on the right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
(e) The flag should be at the centre and highest point of any group of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies.
(f) When other flags are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag's right.
(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed they should be of approximately equal size and flown from separate staffs of the same height. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
(h) When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally the union of the flag should be placed at the peak. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first.
(i) When displayed against a wall the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
(k) When used on a speaker's platform, if the flag is displayed flat it should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium the flag should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag should be placed on the left of the speaker.
(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument but never used as the covering for the statue or monument.
(m) When flown at half-staff the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory or as determined by the President. For a President or former President, it shall be flown at half-staff for 30 days from the death; 10 days for a Vice President, Chief Justice, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives. For a former Vice President, a State Governor and certain other high-ranking officials, on the day of death to the day of interment. On the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day.
(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance it should be suspended vertically with the union to the observer's left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance the flag should be suspended vertically near the centre of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north or east (depending on whether the entrances are east/west or north/south). If there are entrances in more than two directions the union should be to the east.

8 Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colours, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) 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.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned or drawn back, but should always be allowed to fall free.
(e) The flag should never be displayed or handled in a way which permits it to be easily soiled or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have anything drawn or printed on it.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for holding or carrying anything.
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on anything or printed on anything that is designed for temporary use. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
(j) 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 should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
(k) When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

9 Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag
During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag, or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all present should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. The exceptions are those in uniform who should render the military salute, and aliens, who should stand at attention. When not in uniform, men should remove their headgear with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

10 Modification of rules and customs by President
Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag may be modified by proclamation the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, whenever he deems it to be appropriate or desirable.