State flag-protection laws

Friday, September 13, 2002

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has twice invalidated state flag laws, 47 states still have on the books laws, many modeled after the Uniform Flag Law of 1917, that prohibit the desecration of the flag or its use for advertising and publicity purposes.

Alabama
The State of Alabama makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to desecrate a venerated object, such as the U.S. or Alabama state flag. [Ala. Code Sec. 13A-11-12]

Arizona
The State of Arizona forbids the use of the U.S. or Arizona state flag in advertisements, publicity or trade. The law also prohibits people from “casting contempt upon, mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, trampling or otherwise dishonoring” the U.S. or Arizona state flag and punishes such action as a Class II misdemeanor. [Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. Sec. 13-3703]

Arkansas
The State of Arkansas imposes a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term up to one year on those convicted of mutilating, defacing, burning, maintaining on the floor, or trampling the U.S. flag. [Ark. Code Ann. Sec. 5-51-207 and 208]

California
The State of California makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to cast contempt on any flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling upon it. [Cal. Mil. & Vet. Code Sec. 614]

Colorado
The State of Colorado makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor for anyone to burn, cut or tear any U.S. flag in public with the intent to cast contempt or ridicule upon the flag, to outrage the sensibilities of a person likely to observe the incident or to cause a breach of the peace. [Colo. Rev. Stat. Sec. 18-11-204]

Connecticut
The State of Connecticut makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to misuse or mutilate the U.S. or the Connecticut state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 53-258a.]

Delaware
The State of Delaware makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to intentionally deface, damage or physically mistreat the U.S. flag “in a way in which the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the actions.” [Del. Code Ann. tit. 11 Sec. 1331]

Florida
The State of Florida makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for anyone to mutilate, deface, burn or trample upon the U.S. flag, the Florida state flag or the flags of the Confederacy. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes and punishes such infractions with a fine of up to $500 and a jail term of up to 60 days . [Fla. Stat. ch. 256.05 through 256.10] And public mutilation of a flag is punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor if done with intent to insult the flag. [Fla. Stat. ch. 876.52]

Georgia
The State of Georgia prohibits anyone from mutilating, defacing, defiling, or abusing contemptuously the U.S. flag, the Florida state flag or the flag of the Confederate States of America. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Ga. Code Ann. Sec. 50-3-8 and 50-3-9]

Hawaii
The State of Hawaii makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to intentionally deface, damage or physically mistreat the U.S. flag “in a way that the defendant knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the defendant’s action.” [Hawaii Rev. Stat. Sec. 711-1107]

Idaho
The State of Idaho makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to publicly mutilate, deface, trample upon or burn the U.S. or Idaho state flag with the intent to insult. [Idaho Code Sec. 18-3401]

Illinois
The State of Illinois makes it a Class 4 felony for anyone to misuse or mutilate the U.S. or the Illinois state flag. The law also forbids the use of either flag for advertising or publicity purposes and rules that a Class C misdemeanor. Half of fines collected in the successful prosecution of this charge go to the school fund of the county in which the conviction is obtained. [720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 620]

Indiana
The State of Indiana makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly or intentionally mutilate, deface, burn or trample the U.S. flag. [Indiana Code Sec. 35-45-1 through 35-45-4]

Iowa
The State of Iowa makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to misuse or mutilate the U.S. or the Iowa state flag. The law also forbids the use of either flag for advertising or publicity purposes. [Iowa Code Sec. 718A.1 through 718A.6]

Kansas
The State of Kansas prohibits anyone from damaging, defacing or destroying any U.S. or Kansas state flag without express consent. The charge may be a felony if the value of the damaged property exceeds $500. Otherwise, it would be ruled a Class A misdemeanor. [Kan. Stat. Ann. Sec. 21-4111]

Kentucky
The State of Kentucky makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to desecrate the U.S. flag, the Kentucky state flag or any other patriotic or religious symbol. [Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. Sec. 525.110]

Louisiana
The State of Louisiana imposes a fine of up to $100 and a jail term up to 90 days on those convicted of mutilating, defiling, or casting contempt by word or act on the U.S. flag, the Louisiana state flag or the Confederate States of America flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [La. Rev. Stat. Ann. Sec. 116 and 117]

Maine
The State of Maine makes it a Class E crime for anyone to mutilate, deface, trample, or cast contempt upon either the U.S. flag or the Maine state flag. The state imposes a fine of up to $50 on those convicted of using either flag for advertising or publicity purposes. [Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, Chp 9, Sec. 253-254]

Maryland
The State of Maryland imposes a fine of up to $1000 and a jail term of up to 1 year for anyone who mutilates, defaces or shows contempt for the U.S. flag or the Maryland state flag in a manner intended to incite a breach of the peace. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Md. Code Ann. Art. 27, Sec. 81-87]

Massachusetts
The State of Massachusetts imposes a minimum fine of $100 and a jail term up to one year on anyone convicted of mutilating, trampling, defacing or showing contempt for the U.S. flag or the Massachusetts state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 264 Sec. 5]

Michigan
The State of Michigan makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to publicly mutilate, deface, defile or show contempt for the U.S. flag or the Michigan state flag. [Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 750.246]

Minnesota
The State of Minnesota makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to intentionally and publicly mutilate, defile or show contempt for the U.S. flag or the Minnesota state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Minn. Stat. Sec. 609.40]

Mississippi
The State of Mississippi imposes a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term up to 30 days on those convicted of mutilating, trampling or defacing the U.S. flag, the Mississippi state flag, or the Confederate flag with the intent to dishonor. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Miss. Code Ann. Sec. 97-7-39]

Missouri
The State of Missouri makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to purposefully and publicly mutilate, defile, trample upon or desecrate the U.S. or Missouri state flags. [Mo. Rev. Stat.. Sec. 578.095]

Montana
The State of Montana imposes a fine of up to $50,000 and a jail term up to 10 years on anyone convicted of mutilating, defiling or showing contempt for the U.S. flag or the Montana state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Mont. Code Ann. Sec. 45-8-215]

Nebraska
The State of Nebraska makes it a Class III misdemeanor for anyone to mutilate, deface, defile, burn or trample the U.S. flag or the Nebraska state flag. [Neb. Rev. Stat. Sec. 28-928]

Nevada
The State of Nevada makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to deface or defile the U.S. flag or the Nevada state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Nev. Rev. Stat. Sec. 201.290]

New Hampshire
The State of New Hampshire makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly cast contempt upon the U.S. flag, by desecrating it. [N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. Sec. 646A(1) – A(4)]

New Jersey
The State of New Jersey prohibits anyone from desecrating any public monument or symbol, including the U.S. or any state flag. [ N.J. Stat. Ann. Sec. 2C:33-9]

New Mexico
The State of New Mexico makes it a petty misdemeanor for anyone to insult the U.S. or the New Mexico state flags by word or act. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [N.M. Stat. Ann. Sec. 30-21-4]

New York
The State of New York makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to use the U.S. flag for advertising or publicity purposes. [N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law Sec. 136]

North Carolina
The State of North Carolina makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for anyone to mutilate, defile, deface or trample upon the U.S. flag or the North Carolina state flag. [N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 14.381]

North Dakota
The State of North Dakota makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to publicly mutilate, deface, defile, burn or trample upon the U.S. flag. [N.D. Cent. Code Sec. 12.1-07-02]

Ohio
The State of Ohio makes it a misdemeanor of the second degree for anyone to purposely deface, damage or physically mistreat the U.S. flag or the Ohio state flag. [Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Sec. 2927.11]

Oklahoma
The State of Oklahoma imposes a fine up to $3,000 and a jail term up to three years for anyone who contemptuously or maliciously burns, mutilates, defaces or tramples upon the U.S. flag. The law forbids the public display of any red flag or other banner indicating disloyalty to the U.S. Government or promoting a belief in anarchy or the destruction of organized government. The law also forbids the use of the U.S. flag for advertising or publicity purposes. [Okla. Stat. tit. 9, Sec. 21-371 through 21-375]

Oregon
The State of Oregon makes it a Class C misdemeanor for anyone to abuse venerated objects such as the U.S. flag or the Oregon state flag. [Or. Rev. Stat. Sec. 166.075]

Pennsylvania
The State of Pennsylvania prohibits anyone from disrespecting the U.S. flag or using it for advertising or publicity purposes. [18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 2102]

Rhode Island
The State of Rhode Island imposes up to a $100 fine and a jail term up to 30 days on anyone convicted of publicly mutilating, defacing or trampling upon the U.S. flag. The law also forbids the use of the flag for advertising or publicity purposes. [R.I. Gen. Laws Sec. 11-15-2 and 11-20-2]

South Carolina
The State of South Carolina imposes up to a $100 fine and a jail term up to 30 days on anyone convicted of publicly mutilating, defacing, jeering at, trampling upon or defiling the U.S. flag, the South Carolina state flag or the Confederate States of America flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 16-17-210 through 16-17-220]

South Dakota
The State of South Dakota makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly mutilate, deface, burn or trample upon the U.S. flag or the South Dakota state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. The law also bans the display of red, black or any other flags antagonistic to existing government. [S.D. Codified Laws Sec. 22-9-1 through 22-9-13]

Tennessee
The State of Tennessee makes it a Class A misdemeanor for intentional desecration of the U.S. flag or the Tennessee flag. [Tenn. Code Ann. Sec. 39-17-311]

Texas
The State of Texas makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to intentionally damage, deface, mutilate or burn the U.S. flag or the Texas state flag. [Tex. Penal Code Ann. Sec. 42.11]

Utah
The State of Utah makes it a Class B misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly and publicly mutilate, deface, burn or trample upon the U.S. flag or any state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Utah Code Ann. Sec. 76-9-601]

Vermont
The State of Vermont imposes a fine of up to $1000 and a jail term of up to one year on anyone convicted of publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling or trampling upon the U.S. flag or the Vermont state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13 Sec. 1902 through 1905]

Virginia
The State of Virginia makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to publicly mutilate, burn, defile or trample upon the U.S. flag or the Virginia state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Va. Code Ann. Sec. 18.2-487 and 18.2-488]

Washington
The State of Washington makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to cast contempt by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling upon the U.S. or Washington state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 9.86.020 through 9.86.050]

West Virginia
The State of West Virginia imposes a fine of between $5 and $100 and a jail term up to 30 days on anyone convicted of publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling or trampling upon the U.S. flag or the West Virginia state flag. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [W. Va. Code Sec. 61-1-8]

Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s flag-desecration law in 1998 as unconstitutionally overbroad. The case was Wisconsin v. Jansen, 580 N.W.2d 260, 219 Wis.2d 362 (Wis. 1998). Subsequent attempts by the state Legislature to redraft the statute have not succeeded.

Wyoming and Alaska are the only remaining states without a law against desecrating the American flag. Wyoming does have a clause in its state flag code that declares “all penalties provided by the laws of this state for the misuse of the national flag are applicable to the state flag,” but no such penalties seem to exist.