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Establishment of Federal Flag Code

Origins of the Federal Flag Code: A Journey to Enshrine Respect


The Federal Flag Code, originating in 1923 and finally enacted into law in 1942, marked a significant step in defining the proper etiquette and treatment of the American flag. While not legally binding until its formal adoption, the code's origins can be traced back to a period when patriotic sentiments and a desire to honor the national emblem led to its inception.


The 1923 version of the Flag Code was developed by the National Flag Conference, a gathering of veterans and patriotic organizations. This initial iteration provided guidelines on the proper display and handling of the flag, with an emphasis on maintaining the flag's dignity and symbolism. Despite its advisory nature, it gained widespread recognition and respect among Americans who held the flag in high esteem.


However, it wasn't until the United States was deeply entrenched in World War II that the Flag Code was officially enacted into law on June 22, 1942. This move was driven by a heightened sense of patriotism and the need to ensure the proper treatment of the flag during a time of national crisis. The code's transition from a voluntary set of guidelines to a legally enforceable standard underscored its significance as a unifying symbol that deserved the utmost respect and reverence.


In the years following its enactment, the Federal Flag Code became a cornerstone of American flag etiquette. The Supreme Court also weighed in on matters related to the First Amendment and the Flag Code. In the landmark 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, the Court ruled that laws prohibiting flag desecration were unconstitutional, citing freedom of expression. This decision sparked debate and led to the Flag Protection Act of 1989, which attempted to criminalize flag desecration. However, the Supreme Court once again struck down this law in the 1990 case United States v. Eichman, reiterating its stance that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to burn or otherwise desecrate the American flag as a form of symbolic speech. These legal challenges highlighted the delicate balance between the right to free expression and the reverence for a powerful national symbol established by the Federal Flag Code.



Additional Resources:


Establishment of the Federal Flag Code



House of Representatives – Official text

Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States


Smithsonian – American History Museum

Flag Rules and Rituals

American Legion

'Top Ten' American Flag Myths


VFW – Flag Etiquette

Flag Etiquette

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