The US Flag code is a set of guidelines, laws and etiquette norms that govern the handling of the US Flag.
The flag of the United States represents the country, so it is considered vitally important to accord it suitable dignity and respect. The US flag code primarily serves the purpose of ensuring that the flag is handled with appropriate decorum and not disrespected in any way.
Until 1923, there were no formal rules or regulations that governed the use and handling of the US flag. This changed on June 14, 1923 when more than 60 national groups and organizations came together at the National Flag Conference. The conference was also attended by the representatives of the Army and Navy. In fact, it was from the Army and Navy that the conference heavy borrowed when defining and adopting its Flag Code.
After the flag code had been adopted and in use for nearly two decades, U.S. Congress finally decided to formalize it. It passed a resolution on June 22, 1942 which adopted the Flag Code as a Public Law. This means that today, the Flag Code is a federal law.
The Flag Code contains important pointers on how to use, handle, store and dispose of a United States flag. For a start, it states that the U.S. flag shall not dip to any person or thing. If a flag is so tattered that it can’t be suitably used anymore, it must be disposed of in a dignified way. The flag can’t be for advertising and commercial purposes.
The code also prohibits the use of the flag on any costume, unless it is the uniform of patriotic organizations or state organs such as the military, the police and the firefighting department. The code also strictly prohibits ever displaying the flag upside down, except in times of great danger and distress. As per the Flag Code, the United States must always fall freely and not touch anything beneath it, so that it is sufficiently elevated.
A part of the Flag Code defines the penalty for the desecration or disrespect of the American flag. However, this penalty is not actually implemented. In the past, the United States Supreme Court has ruled more than once that such a penalty is not actually constitutional. This is why the penalty as defined in the Flag Code is not enforced today. Instead, individual states have their own laws regarding the deliberate desecration, burning or destruction of the U.S. flag.
Over the course of its existence, the code has been repeatedly modified. One of these modifications changed the flag salute from the Bellamy salute to the hand-over-heart salute. More recently, other modifications have been made to the U.S. Flag code for practical reasons. One notable modification came in 2007. As per this modification, the U.S. flag shall fly at half-staff to mourn the death of a member of the armed forces who had died on active duty.