Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, September 24, 2001



This off-color flag’s legal
if you stare for awhile

The American flag isn't just a decoration. It's a legal entity and the size and dimensions and modes of hanging it are clearly defined under U.S. statutes.

The original Congressional resolution that created the flag, in1776, said the "flag of the United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white on a blue field..."

Congress made no rule for the arrangement of the stars and they were plotted out in different ways, such as a circle. New states were given new stars and stripes, but in 1818 Congress set the number of stripes at 13, adding, "That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the Union of the flag ..." The colors were set as red, white and blue. Adding gold fringe to the edges of the flag is a mutilation of the flag, except in military courts.

In 1912, President Taft fixed the overall width and length of the flag -- known as the hoist and fly -- in a ratio of 1: 1.9. The flag of the United States of America is defined in title 4 U.S.C. 1, 2 and Presidential Executive Order 10834, found in the Federal Register at Vol. 24. No. 166, P. 6365-6367. If the flag is not to the correct 1 X 1.9 proportion, it is not a legal American flag. This includes flags printed in newspapers. The large flag printed in the Star-Bulletin last week was a legal flag.

The flag pictured here is also a legal flag. Really. It's a negative. Stare at it without blinking for a minute, then look elsewhere. The after-image will be in the proper red, white and blue!

Next week: How to properly fly the flag.

--Burl Burlingame

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