U.S. Flag Code

What is the U.S. Code?

The United States Code is the official, subject matter order, compilation of the Federal laws of a general and permanent nature that are currently in force. In accordance with section 285b of title 2 of the U.S. Code, the Code is compiled by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives. The Code is divided into 50 titles by subject matter. Each title is divided into sections. Sections within a title may be grouped together as subtitles, chapters, subchapters, parts, subparts, or divisions. Titles may also have appendices which may be divided into sections, rules and/or forms.

The subjects covered by the 50 titles of the U.S. Code are:

  1. General Provisions
  2. The Congress
  3. The President
  4. Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States
  5. Government Organization and Employees
  6. Surety Bonds (repealed by the enactment of Title 31)
  7. Agriculture
  8. Aliens and Nationality
  9. Arbitration
  10. Armed Forces
  11. Bankruptcy
  12. Banks and Banking
  13. Census
  14. Coast Guard
  15. Commerce and Trade
  16. Conservation
  17. Copyrights
  18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure
  19. Customs Duties
  20. Education
  21. Food and Drugs
  22. Foreign Relations and Intercourse
  23. Highways
  24. Hospitals and Asylums
  25. Indians
  26. Internal Revenue Code
  27. Intoxicating Liquors
  28. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure
  29. Labor
  30. Mineral Lands and Mining
  31. Money and Finance
  32. National Guard
  33. Navigation and Navigable Waters
  34. Navy (eliminated by the enactment of Title 10)
  35. Patents
  36. Patriotic Societies and Observations
  37. Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services
  38. Veterans’ Benefits
  39. Postal Service
  40. Public Buildings, Property, and Works
  41. Public Contracts
  42. The Public Health and Welfare
  43. Public Lands
  44. Public Printing and Documents
  45. Railroads
  46. Shipping
  47. Telegraphs, Telephones, and Radiotelegraphs
  48. Territories and Insular Possessions
  49. Transportation
  50. War and National Defense


Previous to Flag Day, June 14, 1923 there were no federal or state regulations governing display of the United States Flag. It was on this date that the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference which was attended by representatives of the Army and Navy which had evolved their own procedures, and some 66 other national groups. This purpose of providing guidance based on the Army and Navy procedures relating to display and associated questions about the U. S. Flag was adopted by all organizations in attendance.

A few minor changes were made a year later during the Flag Day 1924 Conference, It was not until June 22, 1942 that Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included.

This code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does not impose penalties for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.

Criminal penalties for certain acts of desecration to the flag were contained in Title 18 of the United States Code prior to 1989. The Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson; June 21, 1989, held the statute unconstitutional. This statute was amended when the Flag Protection Act of 1989 (Oct. 28, 1989) imposed a fine and/or up to I year in prison for knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor or trampling upon any flag of the United States. The Flag Protection Act of 1989 was struck down by the Supreme Court decision, United States vs. Eichman, decided on June 11, 1990.

While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to issue ‘official’ rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups. Consequently, different interpretations of various provisions of the Code may continue to be made. The Flag Code may be fairly tested: ‘No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United States of America.’ Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.