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 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 penalties 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.
The flag of the United States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.
On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.
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, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words 'flag, standard, colors, or ensign', as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.
The composition consisting of the words and music known as The Star-Spangled Banner is designated the national anthem of the United States of America.
During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, '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.', should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.
The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. The flag of the United States for the purpose of this chapter shall be defined according to sections 1 and 2 of title 4 and Executive Order 10834 issued pursuant thereto.
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 twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.
The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on New Year's Day, January 1; Inauguration Day, January 20; Lincoln's Birthday, February 12; Washington's Birthday, third Monday in February; Easter Sunday (variable); Mother's Day, second Sunday in May; Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May; Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May; Flag Day, June 14; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, first Monday in September; Constitution Day, September 17; Columbus Day, second Monday in October; Navy Day, October 27; Veterans Day, November 11; Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November; Christmas Day, December 25; and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the birthdays of States (date of admission); and on State holidays.
The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.
The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.
The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.
The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.
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 colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.
Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America, set forth herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with respect thereto may be prescribed, by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, whenever he deems it to be appropriate or desirable; and any such alteration or additional rule shall be set forth in a proclamation.
The Secretary of Defense is authorized and directed to approve a design for a service flag, which flag may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of a person serving in the armed forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States may be engaged.
The Secretary of Defense is also authorized and directed to approve a design for a service lapel button, which button may be worn by members of the immediate family of a person serving in the armed forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States may be engaged.
Upon the approval by the Secretary of Defense of the design for such service flag and service lapel button, he shall cause notice thereof, together with a description of the approved flag and button, to be published in the Federal Register. Thereafter any person may apply to the Secretary of Defense for a license to manufacture and sell the approved service flag, or the approved service lapel button, or both. Any person, firm, or corporation who manufactures any such service flag or service lapel button without having first obtained such a license, or otherwise violates sections 179 to 182 of this title, shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined not more than $1,000.
The national motto of the United States is declared to be 'In God we trust.'
The flower commonly known as the rose is designated and adopted as the national floral emblem of the United States of America, and the President of the United States is authorized and requested to declare such fact by proclamation.
The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' is hereby designated as the national march of the United States of America.
The National League of Families POW/MIA flag is hereby recognized officially and designated as the symbol of our Nation's concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.
Part I. CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
THIS TITLE WAS ENACTED BY ACT JUNE 25, 1948, CH. 645, SEC. 1, 62 STAT. 683
Where to Purchase a Copy of the U.S. Code
If you are using it for legal research, I urge you to verify your results with the printed U.S. Code available through the U.S. Government Printing Office. The printed U.S Code is available for purchase through the Government Printing Office (GPO) at (202) 512-1800, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., eastern time. Orders can also be sent by mail to:
Superintendent of Documents
U.S. Government Printing Office
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GPO accepts checks, VISA, and MasterCard.
The U.S. Code is also available on CD-ROM from the Goverment Printing Office. The U.S. Code CD-ROM with the laws in effect as of January 2, 1992, (stock number 052-001-00438-8) is available for $34. The U.S. Code CD-ROM with the laws in effect as of January 4, 1993, (stock number 052-001-00389-6) will be available (January 17, 1995) for $36. The U.S. Code CD-ROM with the laws in effect as of January 24, 1994, is scheduled to be available March 31, 1995.
The Secretary of Defense is authorized to make such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of sections 179 to 182 of this title.
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