For Flag Day, 5 Laws You May Not Know

By Betty Wang, JD on June 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You may not know this, but today is a holiday. That's right: Happy Flag Day! June 14th commemorates the adoption of our national flag.

On this day back in 1777, a resolution of the Second Continental Congress selected an early version of Old Glory as our official U.S. flag. Since then, lawmakers have added more stars -- and unfurled dozens of federal flag laws.

Flag laws? That's right, this country does not take those lovely stars and stripes lightly. So in celebration of Flag Day, here are five flag laws that you may not know about:

  1. There's actually a law that makes Flag Day a holiday. It's 36 U.S.C. § 110 to be exact -- not that it's illegal or anything if you choose not to observe it. The law just designates the date and "requests" the President to "urge" all Americans to observe the holiday. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1916 that established Flag Day on June 14, according to the Law Librarians of Congress. Flag Day was established by Congress in 1949.
  2. Respect the flag. It's the law. One of the ways you can abide by this is to make sure that the flag never touches anything beneath it, whether it be the ground, a body of water, or merchandise.
  3. You know the Pledge of Allegiance? Well the law says it should be recited while facing the flag, with your right hand over your heart. Non-uniformed men should also remove any (non-religious) headdress and hold it at their left shoulder, while uniformed men should render the military salute, silently facing the flag.
  4. There are proper times and occasions for displaying the flag. Generally, flags should only be displayed from sunrise to sunset. If there is a special occasion or reason for the flag to be displayed 24 hours though, a light should illuminate the flag during the hours of darkness. Displaying the flag is also especially encouraged on holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and of course, Flag Day.
  5. You can legally burn a flag, under certain circumstances. In a famous Supreme Court case from 1989, setting the flag on fire as part of a political demonstration was found to be protected free speech. And in fact, there are laws that actually encourage flag burning. Much in line with respecting it, a flag that's no longer fit for display "should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning," according to the law.

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