On June 10, 2023, social media users shared photographs of a Pride flag draped vertically from the South Portico of the White House between two American flags. Some of these social media posts claimed that the configuration of the flags violated the U.S. Flag Code:
US flag code decrees that the American flag must always be in the dominant, not subservient position.
Joe Biden "Commander and Chief" defaced the American flag by flanking the alphabet cult flag at the White House today.
The enemy is inside the castle walls. pic.twitter.com/EFSjNhmJ2E
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) June 11, 2023
The variant of the Pride flag seen in the photographs, known as the progress Pride flag, was indeed hung between two American flags at the White House during a Pride Month celebration on June 10, 2023. The flag includes black, brown, blue, pink, and white stripes on a traditional Pride flag to represent people of color, as well as the transgender community.
We found pictures of the flag display on Getty Images and the Associated Press (AP)'s photo hub. Reputable news publications like AP News and CNN also published photos of the flags in stories about the event.
As for the claim that the configuration violated U.S. Flag Code, there was no shortage of opinions among social media users — both for and against the notion based on various interpretations of the guidelines. Some pointed out that, in some photographs, a third American flag could be seen flying from a staff on the highest point of the portico.
Among users who believed a violation occurred, some stressed that the code explicitly stated, "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... are grouped and displayed." However, others said that interpretation omitted important details in the code's language (in bold text below):
(e)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.
According to Forbes, no violation had occurred. In addition to citing the above-transcribed section of U.S. Flag Code, the publication pointed out a section that grants the President authority to alter U.S. flag rules, or customs, when it comes to displays. "As president, Joe Biden is also commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, and it was therefore within his rights to display the flags for Saturday's event as he saw fit," Forbes wrote.
In any case, although it's true that the U.S. Flag Code enshrines instructions for the proper display of the American flag, according to a 2019 FAQ about flag law from the Congressional Research Service, its provisions are "declaratory and advisory only":
Most of the flag code contains no explicit enforcement mechanisms, and relevant case law would suggest that provisions without enforcement mechanisms are declaratory and advisory only. Efforts by states to punish either verbal flag disparagement or disrespectful flag display ("flag-misuse laws") have been struck down under First Amendment free speech precepts that apply to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.