With Independence Day coming up soon, we’ll be seeing the Stars and Stripes proudly waving from porches, yards, businesses, and anywhere else patriots celebrate the nation’s birthday.
But when it comes to hoisting and flying the American flag, it turns out the federal government has an extensive list of suggested rules to encourage respect for our banner.
Rules on how citizens should treat the flag are collected in the “Federal Flag Code,” found in Title 4 of the United States Code. The official guidelines date back to 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a House resolution codifying rules and customs for how civilians should display the flag.
Penalties for noncompliance aren’t included in the flag code – and it’s generally accepted that the code doesn’t proscribe conduct toward the flag, but merely advises conduct toward it.
But it’s important to note that the code consists of federal rules, and not state and local laws related to the flag.
As far as stricter federal laws, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989 to provide criminal penalties for acts that “violate the physical integrity of the flag.” It imposed a fine and/or up to a year in prison for “knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor, or trampling upon” an American flag.
A 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, held that the act was unconstitutional because it violated protesters’ freedom of speech. Congress hasn’t passed similar legislation to punish flag desecration since the ruling.
Though the flag code contains many rules, its guiding principle is simple: “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.”
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