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U.S. flag code says the American flag "should be at the center and at the highest point of the group" when flags are "grouped and displayed from staffs."
The progress pride flag was centered and displayed between two American flags during a June 10 White House pride event. But another U.S. flag was also flying at a higher point — from a flagpole on the roof above the other flags.
U.S. flag code provides general guidance about how civilians can display flags. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down laws that prohibit improper use or desecration of the flag.
Others claimed the flag with its horizontal rainbow stripes and triangular white, pink, blue, brown and black stripes represented a departure from decorum, or worse — a violation of the traditional rules for displaying the U.S. flag.
On June 11, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., called the display "a disgrace" on Twitter.
"Not only is it in breach of US Flag Code, but it’s a glaring example of this White Houses’ incompetence and insistence on putting their social agenda ahead of patriotism," he wrote.
(Screenshot from Twitter.)
Marshall wasn’t the only person upset about the pride flag at the White House.
In the days that followed the pride event, the flag code violation claim was repeated or shared by many others, including a host, reporter and guest on Fox News and Tom Fitton, president of the conservative organization Judicial Watch.
On June 14, Marshall introduced a bill that would prevent "any flag other than the American flag" from being "flown, draped or displayed on federal buildings, with certain exceptions."
Marshall did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment, so it was not immediately clear what part of U.S. flag code he believed the White House breached. However, during a Newsmax interview Marshall shared June 15 on YouTube, Marshall encouraged people to go to the American Legion’s website and look at its flag code.
"Their flag code clearly states that the American flag, if it’s in a display, should be in the center," he said. "It should be in a place of prominence — the place of prominence — and centered as well."
We checked the American Legion’s website. The nonprofit veterans organization site has a page dedicated to U.S. flag code. But there isn’t one rule that precisely fits the scenario seen at the White House.
Marshall’s remarks suggest he was referring to Section 7(e), which delineates how the flag should be displayed when it is among other flags.
It reads: "The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs." This matches the language on the United States Code website.
Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, attends a Pride Month celebration June 10, 2023, on the South Lawn of the White House. (AP)
Photos show that in the June 10 White House display, the progress pride flag was centered between two American flags, but there was another American flag flying overhead from a staff, higher than all the other flags.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines echoed U.S. flag code guidance and provided small graphics depicting certain scenarios. Although the guidelines contain rules for draping a flag, they do not clearly state how that flag should be positioned in relation to other flags when draped. All the rules dealing with how a flag should be displayed among other flags regard how and where they hang from a staff or flagpole.
(U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
According to the Congressional Research Service, U.S. flag code is guidance for private citizens and generally has no enforcement mechanism. In 2019, the nonpartisan government research arm wrote that efforts "to punish either verbal flag disparagement or disrespectful flag display (‘flag-misuse laws’) have been struck down" repeatedly on First Amendment grounds.
A 2011 CRS report said flag code "functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups" and does not include enforcement strategies or "prescribe any penalties for noncompliance."
It also said flag code does not cover all situations, meaning that "different interpretations of various provisions of the Code may continue to be made."
Flag code says "no disrespect should be shown" to the flag.
"Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown," the Congressional Research Service wrote.
In an article titled, "‘Top Ten’ American Flag Myths," the American Legion noted that the code "is simply a guideline for proper flag etiquette."
"The law does not provide penalties for violation of any of its provisions," it said.
The White House did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment. Asked about the flag flap during a June 13 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration was proud to display the pride flag and that the event was centered "around love and family."
"I’m certainly not going to get into protocols from here, or I’ll leave that to others," she said.
June 10, 2023.— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 11, 2023
The largest Pride Month celebration ever held at the White House. pic.twitter.com/UPs0PBBSZR
This is not the first time flag protocols have been fodder for partisan outrage — and fact-checking. Bloggers in 2011 cried foul after a Republican, former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida, went scuba diving with an American flag. People claimed that was a violation of federal law; we rated that False.
Marshall claimed that displaying the progress pride flag between two American flags at a White House pride event was a "breach of US Flag Code."
U.S. flag code provides average American civilians guidance for proper flag etiquette.
Marshall appeared to base his claim on a portion of flag code that says the American flag "should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags" when flags are "grouped and displayed from staffs."
The flags in question weren’t flown from staffs, and, above the three-flag display, another American flag was flying from a staff.
We rate this claim False.
Tweet by Sen. Roger Marshall, June 11, 2023
Tweet by Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, June 11, 2023
The American Legion, United States Flag Code, accessed June 14, 2023
U.S. Code, 4 USC Ch. 1: The Flag, accessed June 14, 2023
Veterans of Foreign Wars, Flag Etiquette, accessed June 14, 2023
Fox News, White House accused of US Flag Code violation over Pride Month display, June 11, 2023
Verify, No, the White House pride flag display did not violate flag code, June 12, 2023
Smithsonian, Flag Rules and Rituals, accessed June 14, 2023
Internet Archive, Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News, June 13, 2023
Internet Archive, Fox & Friends First, June 12, 2023
Congressional Research Service, The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions, Jan. 24, 2011
Congressional Research Service, Frequently Asked Questions About Flag Law, Oct. 7, 2019
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Guidelines for Display of the Flag, accessed June 15, 2023
Forbes Claims On Social Media That White House Violated U.S. Flag Code Are Wrong, June 12, 2023
Snopes, Was a Pride Flag Hung Between American Flags at the White House? June 12, 2023
U.S. Senator Roger Marshall’s website, Sen. Marshall Introduces One Flag For All Act Honoring American Flag, June 14, 2023
Yahoo!News, 13 Photos of Queer Joy & Celebration at White House Pride Month Event, June 12, 2023
Tweet, June 11, 2023
Erin Reed tweet, June 10, 2023
Chris Strider tweet, June 10, 2023
The White House’s YouTube channel, 06/13/23: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, June 13, 2023
Facebook post by The White House, June 10, 2023
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