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Flag laws in the United States

Last modified: 2016-03-25 by rick wyatt
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A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court about banning flags

I thought the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no banning of the type like in the city of Raleigh, NC, was permissible. The very famous case of the (extremely small) Nazi party in Chicago which obtained, after long struggle and much public debate, the right to march in a suburb mainly inhabited by people of Jewish extraction and religion. The debate over this issue continues in U.S. society. Technically, the Nazi flag is not banned here as in Germany, and many people believe that to ignore the manifestation of symbols is better than suppressing them. This is not to say that the evil of the philosophy should be ignored, or the revision of history many here would like to practice.
Jahvah, 28 September 1995

Flying earlier versions of the U.S. flag

All versions of the U.S. flags ever used are still, as new versions have been authorized, but old versions have never been unauthorized.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 21 February 1996

According to President Dwight Eisenhower's Executive Order (#10834, published 25 August, 1959) the 50-Star flag would become the "official flag of the United States on July 4, 1960." The Order also states "All national in possession of executive agencies...shall be utilized until unserviceable."

Earlier, the White House had issued the following statement to the public: "By law, the new 50-star flag will become the official flag of the United States on July 4, 1960, the birthday of the Union. Display of the new flags before that time would be improper. However, it would not be improper to display the 48-star and the 49-star flag after that date; with limited exceptions agencies of the Federal Government will continue to display the 48-star and the 49-star flag so long as they remain in good condition and until existing stocks of unused flags are exhausted. It is appropriate for all citizens to do the same." (21 August 1959)

The answer seems to be that only 50-star flags are "official" but it is appropriate to display earlier examples. A publication sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America states "Historic U.S. flags are due the same honor and respect that are given today's colors. When a historic flag is carried or displayed with a present-day flag, the modern flag takes precedence." These do not appear in the Flag Code nor the Executive Orders covering the flag, but they make sense.
Nick Artimovich, 21 February 1996

Using the flag for advertising

The Flag Code does state: "The U.S. flag should never be used for advertising in any manner whatsoever." That is not usually broadly construed to bother companies that just display a single flag of normal size.
Nick Artimovich, 21 February 1996

Flags on federal buildings

When States Lower Flag, Federal Buildings Have to Do So, Too - New York Times
Published: July 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, July 2 - All federal buildings in a state have to comply when the governor orders the American flag lowered to half-staff in honor of soldiers killed while serving, under a law President Bush signed on Friday.

The bill responded to complaints from families of fallen soldiers who saw that the flag was often not lowered at federal buildings despite governors' instructions. Federal officials said they did not consider themselves under governors' jurisdiction.

"This legislation will ensure consistency in how we honor fallen heroes," said Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who sponsored the legislation. "While in many cases the local federal employees want to observe the governors' orders, they may not have received the appropriate directive from their regional offices."

The differing responses set off a larger debate about whether lowering the flag for a killed soldier cheapened the tribute by carrying it out too often and whether it was a subtle antiwar gesture.

Under the new law, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington, a Democrat, has the same authority as governors, meaning that he can instruct the White House and other federal buildings in the capital to lower the flag.

Govs. Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia can order flags lowered at prominent federal sites like the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

The law amends the Flag Code, which offers guidelines on treating the flag but does not have penalties for noncompliance.

"The president is the ultimate authority when it comes to deciding whether to follow the Flag Code or not," said Joyce Doody, executive director of the National Flag Foundation in Pittsburgh. "But it would be highly unusual for an administration not to follow it."

Nathan Lamm, 3 July 2007

Manufacturing source of flags


Laws require flags to be born in USA
By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press Writer

ROSEMOUNT, Minn. - What's red, white and blue - and made in China? A move is on in state legislatures to ensure that the flags folks will be flying and buying this Independence Day were made on this fruited plain.

Minnesota has passed the strongest measure, a new law that goes into effect at year's end requiring every Old Glory sold in state stores to be domestically produced. Violations are a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. In Arizona, schools and public colleges were required starting July 1 to outfit every classroom from junior high up with a made-in-the-USA flag. Tennessee requires all U.S. flags bought via state contract to be made here, and similar bills are moving forward in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Fourth of July is considered peak season for flag sales with millions of them lining parade routes and flying above back yard barbecues. Most of the major domestic flag makers are privately held companies that don't release their sales figures, so it's difficult to gauge the inroads being made by foreign manufacturers. The U.S. Census bureau estimates that $5.3 million worth of U.S. flags were imported from other countries in 2006, mostly from China. That figure has been steady over the past few years. The big exception was in 2001 when $51.7 million in U.S. flags were brought into the country, most on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sandy Van Leiu, chairman of the Flag Manufacturers Association of America, said the imports are cause for concern even though U.S. companies still dominate the flag market. "That door is going to keep opening," said Van Leiu, a sixth-generation executive at the family owned Annin & Co., a 160-year-old business that supplies retailers like Wal-Mart. "It starts small, then it gets big. You're just opening Pandora's box." To help consumers identify the origin of their flags, the association created a certification program two years ago that bestows a seal-of-approval logo to flags made with domestic fibers and labor.

Whether Minnesota's law violates international trade agreements - and whether anything would be done about it - is an open question. Under World Trade Organization standards, the U.S. government can't treat foreign products less favorably than those produced within its boundaries, said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and the former chief economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission. How the rules apply to states is debatable, he said. Morici said a foreign business harmed by the law would have to get its government to take action against the U.S. government. Robert Litan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, said while the likelihood of Minnesota's law sparking a dispute is slim, the symbolic message is hard to miss. "It's symptomatic of an anti-foreign bias moving through the country right now. It would not surprise me if other states copied it," Litan said. "It's hard to oppose politically."

When the bill was debated this spring, some legislators argued it sent the wrong message to close Minnesota's borders to foreign-produced flags. "That flag should be made throughout the world because it is our message to the world that there is hope for freedom and justice," Republican Rep. Dan Severson said at the time. The law's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Tom Rukavina, said the flag deserves extra protection. To celebrate his legislative victory, he plans to hand out 1,000 miniature flags at Fourth of July parades in his district. "The biggest honor that you can give the flag is that it be made by American workers in the United States of America," he said. "Nothing is more embarrassing to me than a plastic flag made in China. This replica of freedom we so respect should be made in this country." The new law doesn't spell out a penalty for violators. In Minnesota, the default punishment for prohibited acts is a misdemeanor offense, carrying up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Lewis Nowitz, 3 July 2007

Forbidden flags

The U.S. has no such prohibitions, but 17 states do have "forbidden flags." Here is a quick summary of those state laws, most of which have certain exceptions (loopholes.) Please note that these are brief summaries of brief summaries!

prohibits the display of the "red flag or any other flag in a public place" as a sign of violent opposition to organized government. No state military group may carry other than the U.S. or State flags.
*note*: in 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this law. see Stromberg v. California.
prohibits display of any flag other than U.S. or State on public buildings or grounds, or displays such flag in a place knowing it is likely to cause a breach of the peace.
District of Columbia
prohibits, on U.S. Capitol Grounds a flag designed to bring into public notice a party, organization or movement.
prohibits the display of the "red flag or any other flag in a public place" as a sign of violent opposition to organized government. No state military group may carry other than the U.S. or State flags.
prohibits, during time of war, the display the flag of a nation or of a state with which the U.S. is at war.
prohibits the display of the flag of a foreign country outside of a public building or schoolhouse.
prohibits flags designed to bring into public notice an organization not specifically permitted by statute.
New Hampshire
prohibits the display of a foreign flag on a public building, or the UN flag other than subordinate to the U.S. flag on public property.
New Jersey
prohibits the display of a flag of a foreign country unless accompanied by a U.S. flag of at least equal dimensions.
New York
prohibits the UN flag above the U.S. except at UN HQ. Flags which cast contempt on U.S. flag are prohibited. Foreign flags on public property are prohibited.
North Dakota
prohibits public display of other than the U.S. flag, a State flag, or flag of a friendly foreign nation.
prohibits "red flag," etc, or any flag "over public property, except roads, stadiums or arenas, unless it is the U.S. flag, the flag of a nation once having dominion over the State, the State flag, an official municipal flag, the Boy Scouts flag, the Girl Scouts flag, the American Red Cross flag, or a flag approved by the governing body..."
prohibits other than U.S. flags over public buildings.
Rhode Island
prohibits flags in a parade unless accompanied by U.S. flag, prohibits flags with inscriptions opposed to organized government or derogatory to morals, and prohibits foreign flags from public buildings or schools.
prohibits flags antagonistic to U.S. or State laws or constitution.
West Virginia
prohibits black or red flags or others antagonistic to U.S. or State constitutions, laws, ideals, and institutions.
prohibits state military organizations from carrying other than U.S. flags.

In general, the references to "public property" mean government office buildings, public schools, police stations, etc. The full text of the laws have lots of little details and exceptions.

The principal editor of Stars Stripes and Statutes was Patricia Artimovich, Esq. (my wife.)

Nick Artimovich, 21 February 1996

The red flag was once banned by law in many U.S. States (and still is on the books in many states) but was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court in 1931. Other states with the law banning red flags still on the books are Idaho, West Virginia, and Oklahoma (but with exceptions).
Dan Sanley, 7 September 2015

The flag burning decision virtually certainly eliminates the legality and impact of all those laws.
Bill Trinkle, 7 September 2015

One needs to examine the hysteria of the times. In the 1920s and 1930s, most of conservative United States had become isolationist, suspicious, fearful, and distrustful after their idealistic entry into World War I and disappointments that followed. The world had become a very fearful place, and they were deeply affected by world events, and the response was the passing of many now-unconstitutional laws that were put on the books at the state level, including those that infringed on the civil rights of individuals. It was the age of the Red Scare, and it resulted in increased discrimination, bigotry, intolerance, prejudice, racism, and injustice in the United States. The rule of the day was to protect our country and traditions against anything that endangered it, including displaying anything considered un-American like the red flag.

Since that time, the Supreme Court has ruled most of these Jim Crow-like laws unconstitutional and void, but many are still on the books, having never been officially removed. It's more like bad bookkeeping, and although they may still exist, they are no longer enforced. Both the United States and state governments, like those in other countries, react to public panic and fears, and sometimes pass bad laws as a result. Not too hard to understand for us today, considering the climate after 9-11 in the United States, some of the resulting laws, and with the continuing senseless shootings and terrorist attacks taking place worldwide.
Pete Loeser, 11 February 2016

Restriction against flying foreign national flags without accompanying U.S. flag

On 14 November 2006, the "English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation Ordinance" was adopted. It declared English the official language of Pahrump, an unincorporated town of about 35,000 people in Nye County, 60 miles west of Las Vegas. The proposal also denied unspecified town benefits to "undocumented foreign nationals" and forbade the flying of any foreign flag without an accompanying American flag.

The intention was to bring the community together under a common language and custom. But its adoption on Nov. 14, by a vote of 3 to 2, had the opposite effect.

The ordinance was repealed on 13 February 2007.

Albert S. Kirsch, 18 December 2006