district of columbia

Discussion in 'American Flag History' started by figmo124, Jul 6, 2008.

  1. figmo124

    figmo124 New Member


    I have scoured the US Flag code and not found the answer to this question:

    My friend says all the constraints about handling, advertising, and wearing a flag is ONLY for the District of Columbia.


    8th Grade school teacher
    Gilbert AZ
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hi, welcome to the forum!

    My friend says all the constraints about handling, advertising, and wearing a flag is ONLY for the District of Columbia. True?

    No. The flag code applies to "civilian groups or organizations" that have occasion to display the flag, and it's a federal law that applies everywhere. The section on "Respect for the Flag" for example, deals with the use of the flag as "wearing apparel, bedding or drapery."

    However, I think that I know what your friend might be referring to. There's a particular section of the US Code (Title 4, Section 3), that deals with the use of the flag for advertising purposes in the District of Columbia. This section is not part of the flag code per se. It is rather draconian -- if you read it literally, you can be fined or put in jail for wearing a T-shirt or carrying a tote bag that has a flag on it. This section is not enforced, of course, and it's almost certainly unconstitutional under the Supreme Court decision of 1990. And, again, it's separate and distinct from the flag code as such.

    I hope that answers your question. Again, welcome!

    Peter Ansoff
  3. bronny49

    bronny49 New Member

    Let me echo Peter's comments with some additions:

    From about 1890 until the mid-sixties, States enacted laws banning desceration of the flag with various provisions, including any use of the flag for clotthing or for advertisements. Various states also enacted requirements for school children to be led by their teachers in daily pledges to the flag using the 1892 formula. These laws were challenged from the beginning with mixed success. The pledge recitation issue was, at first, sustained by the Supreme Court in 1941 but was reversed in 1943 after a couple of the Justices realized that the First Amendment could not be sacrificed. The 1943 decision was written by Robert Jackson (later chief prosecutor for the Nuermburg trials). One of his statements in that decision is one of the best ever written about our rights:

    “The very purpose of a Bill or Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no election…. If there is one fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what is orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. … We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.â€￾

    Justice Robert H. Jackson, writing for the Majority
    West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette

    The decision in Texas v Johnson 491 U.S. 397 (1989) rendered every State law unenforceable; the decision in US v. Eichman 496 U.S. 310 rendered every Federal law pertaimning to flag desecration unenforeable. That one included the DC law since that is Federal law even if enacted by the self-rule government. The prreservation of the First Amendment rights is a more important value than the emotional content of the flag. The substance of our nation's government is in the Constitution. As such, it must always trump the symbols of the nation. The majority of the Supreme Court has sustained that principle for many decades.

Share This Page