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When can the flag of another country be flown in the United States?

This question came from a reader who was upset after seeing the flag of another nation displayed outside of a local restaurant that sells international cuisine.

The simple answer, at least for private citizens on private property, a flag of another nation can be flown whenever the person so chooses.

The U.S. Flag Code provides that “No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States.”

However, the Flag Code does not provide penalties, and while considered a guideline for properly displaying and respectful use of the U.S. flag, it is unenforceable.

While displaying the flag of another country in a manner not outlined in the Flag Code may be offensive to some, it is generally considered to be a matter of free speech.

Prior to 1989, penalties were imposed on acts of desecration of a flag, but those statutes were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the flag burning case Texas vs. Johnson.

The court held that burning a flag in and of itself was protected by the First Amendment, despite the act being considered offensive.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” Justice William Brennan wrote in the majority opinion.

The Flag Code expressly forbids certain other actions and practices that are commonly seen in the United States.

  • The flag should not be used as clothing, bedding or drapery.
  • There should never be any “mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature” placed on the flag.
  • The flag should not be used for advertising purposes or as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • The flag should also never be embroidered on items like cushions or handkerchiefs or printed on items like paper napkins or boxes that are for temporary use and are discarded.
  • When flown from a motor vehicle, the flag should be firmly affixed to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.

“The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing,” according to the Flag Code.

Again, there are no penalties for not following this code.

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Borough Manager Matthew Candland said Carlisle has no ordinances or regulations that forbid flying another nation’s flag inside the borough unless it creates a safety hazard like blocking a street sign. He said the standard would be used for someone flying the U.S. flag.

Candland said it is common to see flags of different nations flown throughout the borough.

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Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.