The Proper Standard
While there is no greater symbol of freedom world-wide than “Old Glory,” the authors believe that its patriotic display is only mildly more inconvenient, but far more reverent and appropriate, if done compliant with federal law and consistent with the Rules of Flag Etiquette.
Authority and References
Unbeknownst to most, the proper display of the Flag of the United States of America is something more than an idle show of patriotism. Rather, it is the subject of federal law. The “Flag Code” is a part of the United States Code, at 4 U.S.C. Section 1, but we will call those rules the Flag Code because it’s a whole lot easier.
Granted, these rules are largely unenforced, no doubt because any act of patriotism, even if literally “noncompliant,” should be lauded rather than punished. Nevertheless, we believe that most Americans that have the dedication and pride to manifest their support for our democracy by display of our Standard, would self-regulate, were they armed with the knowledge by which to do so.
The Flag Code requires that “the flag of the Unites 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.” Modern flags, of course, have fifty stars, reflecting the admission of two additional states since the Flag Code’s enactment, namely Alaska and Hawaii. This is prescribed by Section 2 of the Flag Code, which provides that “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.”
Question: I have a United States flag made before the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states, and so only has 48 stars. May I display a United States Flag that doesn’t comply with the federal law, but is proper at the time of its manufacture?
Answer: Yes. There is nothing wrong with display of a historic flag. This is true not only of the “stars and bars” flags compliant at the time of their manufacture, but also of any historic flags which are chronologically accurate and emblematic of the United States of America (such as the “Don’t Tread on Me” flags of days gone by). That said, any flag displayed in tribute to the United States of America should be done in a way consistent with federal law, and otherwise should be done consistent with the rules of flag etiquette, in honor of “the Republic for which it stands.”
Authors Ross Simmons and his son, Hunter, are life members of the National Eagle Scout Association, and Ross is Scoutmaster at Imperial’s Troop 4070. Have a question about Flag Etiquette? Please submit your questions or photos to email@example.com. (By submitting, you’re licensing content for use.)