As a reference librarian working on the reference desk in the Law Library Reading Room, I answer a whole range of questions on state and federal law and some days it feels as though every question is on a new topic. But in fact, there are some topics which are of continuing interest to our patrons, and one of them is flag etiquette. Since June 14th is celebrated as Flag Day, I thought it would be useful to provide some information about the origin of Flag Day as well as direct our readers to federal and state flag codes and other resources on flag etiquette.
On June 14, 1777 the second Continental Congress adopted a resolution establishing the flag of the United States. Over a hundred years later a Wisconsin school teacher began to advocate for recognizing June 14 as the Flag’s Birthday or Flag Day. Then in 1916, President Wilson issued Presidential Proclamation 1335 in which he “suggested” and “requested” that every community in the United States should observe June 14 as Flag Day. Congress subsequently passed a law in 1949 which established June 14 as Flag Day and requested the President to issue an annual proclamation for Flag Day. This proclamation instructs U.S. government officials to display the flag on all Government buildings and asks the people of the United States to observe the day in honor of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States. The current law can be found in the United States Code, Title 36, section 110.
As well as law establishing the official flag and Flag Day, Congress has also passed laws regarding the design of the flag as well as laws regarding the time, occasions, position and manner of display. These laws can be found in Title 4 of the United States Code, sections 1-10.
- Section 5 of this Title states that this law pertains to the display and use of the flag for use by civilians or civilian groups.
- Section 6 lays out the “Time and occasions for display.”
- Section 7 gives information about the position and manner of display.
Despite two pages of information on the position and manner of display, going from subsection a-o, people often have additional questions relating to flag displays and flag etiquette and the American Legion has put together a helpful Flag Display FAQ which provides what might be termed an exegesis on flag displays.
In addition to Federal law on state displays, many states also have laws governing the display of state flags and of state flags in conjunction with the U.S. flag. In Massachusetts, where I was born, Title 1, Chapter 2, section 6 of the Massachusetts code directs that the U.S. flag and the Massachusetts commonwealth flag shall be displayed on every public institution of the state. The Texas state Government Code, section 443.024 provides detailed instructions about the display of the U.S. and Texas state flags at the Capitol building. You can do research for your own state laws through the Law Library’s Guide to Law Online. Just select the U.S. States & Territories option, then select your state and within a state search the first option under the heading “Legislative.”
Update: redirected U.S. Code links to House of Representatives Office of Law Revision Counsel new website.