Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy Flag Day!

Get ready to wave Old Glory!  Break out the “Stars and Stripes”! 

By presidential proclamation, President Obama has declared June 14th, 2012 National Flag Day. This longstanding tradition began during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, ninety-six years ago. This June 14th marks the 235th anniversary of the passage of the first Flag Act, wherein the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the national standard.
Annually, it is customary for the president to issue a presidential proclamation to commemorate the occasion.

Three Congressional Acts, collectively referred to as the "Flag Acts," from 1777, 1794 and 1818, shaped the appearance of the modern American flag. Each of the red and white stripes represents one of the thirteen original colonies. There are fifty stars in the upper left corner, one for each state. The physical composition of the flag has been unchanged since the admission of Hawaii as the fiftieth state in 1959.
For an interesting pictorial retrospective, check out the American Flag slide show compiled by Dr. Whitney Smith of the Flag Research Center. These changing physical characteristics of American flag came about through a combination of the Flag Acts and presidential proclamations from 1777 to 1960.

National Flag Day kicks off the twenty-one day period of “Honor America Days,” which ends on Independence Day.
  During this period of time, Congress has declared that there shall be public gatherings and celebrations, so that the citizens of America may honor their country in a festive and appropriate manner.  These laws can be found in Title 36, Subtitle I, of the United States Code, concerning “Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies, and Organizations.” Additionally, the United States Code prescribes flag etiquette and the procedure for respectful disposal of worn out flags in Title 4, Chapter 1

As a powerful national symbol, the flag, and its presentation and treatment, has long been a source of controversy. 
Contrary to popular lore, the golden fringe often seen in courtrooms and government buildings does not symbolize the imposition of "admiralty" or other martial law upon American citizens. While this type of embellishment began as a military tradition, the fringe is mere adornment and does not hold any special significance.  Per the opinion of the U.S. Attorney General in 1925, such a decorative addition does not "deface" the flag either as it is not an "integral part of the flag." United States Attorney General opinions are available on Lexis, Westlaw, Loislaw, and HeinOnline going back to 1791.

Executive branch documents are an important, but sometimes overlooked, legal resource. While we are all familiar with more standard legal materials – like cases and statutes – these documents comprise another important area of American law.
There are two primary forms of United States Executive Branch records: executive orders and presidential proclamations. Typically, executive orders are used by the President to give operational directives to offices and agencies within the Executive Branch, generally for the purposes of interpreting or implementing a law. Significantly, executive orders have the force of law. In contrast, presidential proclamations tend to concern ceremonial observances and lack the same import.  

For help navigating presidential resources, the Gallagher Law Library has created a comprehensive research guide on finding
Presidential Documents, both in print and electronically. The Compilation of Presidential Documents, which includes the day-to-day documents produced by White House from 1993 to present, can be accessed for free through FDsys.  Another useful resource for locating contemporary presidential materials is the White House website.

The American flag is closely associated with First Amendment issues, particularly symbolic speech.
  In addition to a number of Supreme Court decisions dealing with flag burning, there have also been ongoing (and controversial) efforts by some members of Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning the desecration of the American flag. The Gallagher Law Library has a number of books on the American flag and its attendant legal issues including: The Flag and the Law: A Documentary History of the Treatment of the American Flag by the Supreme Court and Congress and Flag Burning and Free Speech: The Case of Texas v. Johnson

For more factual information on this patriotic holiday, be sure to check out The National Flag Day Foundation website!  

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