Violating Flag Laws

jul4_2014One of the things I found strange when I first came to the United States was how little most US citizens understand proper flag etiquette. Helping Landon with his Cub Scout participation has given me a clearer understanding of the rules and regulations of the United States flag. I thought I would share some of them with you today as not a day goes by when I notice some individuals inadvertently violating even the most basic rules and regulations, not to mention disrespecting the flag regularly. As today is the Fourth of July, I thought it even more appropriate to discuss the proper etiquette when it comes to the United States flag.

I am sure some of you are assuming I’m going to point out obvious daily failures such as flying the flag at night or during rainstorms. Or, improperly flying the flag at half-mast, or not all the way up the pole. Actually, those misuses can be summed up as an improperly educated citizen or just basic laziness in following proper flag etiquette. Instead, what I am going to point out today are the many instances when United States code is violated on a regular basis by misusing the United Stated flag in violation of the underlining national flag code.

The United States Code, Chapter 1’s sections codifies the rugulations governing the US flag. Although obviously routinely ignored by federal and state authorities many of the uses of the flag currently allowed are nonetheless improper under United States code. It is important to note that although the use of the US flag is codified in the US Code the fact is that it is unenforceable because the penalties have not been codified. Therefore they have become “guidelines” instead of law.

The United States flag cannot be used for advertising purposes.

beer_poster14That is one of the most frequent violations I observe on a daily basis. Although the US code has become a guideline, several states have enacted laws against using the flag in advertising. I assume the first argument that will be posed by some readers will be the right to free speech; after all, there are many instances of flag burning during protests and other protests centered on the flag.

The Unites States Supreme Court ruled in Halter v. Nebraska (205 US 34 [1907]) that “the provision against the use of representations of the flag for advertising articles of merchandise” does not violate the Constitution. Thus, some states that have enacted laws against using the United States flag for advertising purposes are constitutional.

I couldn’t find any Texas state law prohibiting the use of the United States flag in advertising. Interestingly, Texas specifically prohibits the use of the state flag in advertising. In regards to the United States flag, the closest Texas law I found is Tex. PE Code ANN. Section 42.11: Destruction of Flag.

This Texas statue makes states that “a person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly damages, defaces, mutilates, or burns the flag of the United States or the State of Texas”.

Florida, on the other hand specifically makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for using the flags for advertising purposes. (Fla. Stat. Ch. 876.52)

Therefore, although the State of Texas makes it a crime to use the state flag in advertising it does not seem to make it illegal to use the United States flag for advertising purposes. Therefore, those in El Paso appear to be safe while drinking their Budweiser.

flag_pantiesThe flag as clothing.

In my opinion, the most egregious misuse of the flag is in apparel. The US Code, US Code 4, section 8; Respect for the flag, clearly states that “(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”. Clearly, US flag panties, shorts and jackets violates this proviso. Having the common decency to respect the symbol of the national symbol that everyone is celebrating today should dictate that such clothing should not be available in the US, much less worn as underwear.

Political candidates using the flag.

obama_poster14 romney_poster14 hillary_poster14


Political candidates for the most part do not directly misuse the US flag but sometimes they come perilous close to doing so. As you can see from the examples, the three major candidates used the colors and facsimiles of the flag on their logos but for the most part, it can be argued that it is not the actual US flag they are using.

The news media, on the other hand routinely superimposes election signage over the US flag while covering the elections. I believe that for the most part this is, again, a lack of education of the individuals responsible for the graphics used by the news outlets.

The reason I shared this with you today, besides the fact that I have been puzzled for many years as to the disrespect shown by many to the US flag is that through the years I have come to believe that it is not intention disrespect but rather a lack of education on the subject.

One thought on “Violating Flag Laws

  1. Watching the Fourth of July celebration on the national mall last night, I saw about 10,000 people violating the flag-inspired clothing rule. The performers at least observed the rule, which seems unenforceable to me. Can you image the headlines when a policeman writes a citation for wearing a flag shirt?

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