On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution, which stated: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” In 1795, the number of stars and stripes was increased from 13 to 15 (to reflect the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as states of the Union).
For a time the flag was not changed when subsequent states were admitted. It was the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “Defense of Fort McHenry,” which is now our national anthem. The flag is currently on display in the exhibition “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem” at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
In 1818, Congress legislated the flag be changed to have 20 stars, representing the number of states in the Union at that time, with a new star to be added when each new state was admitted. Congress reduced the number of stripes to 13 to honor the 13 original colonies. The act specified that new flag designs should become official on the first July 4 following admission of one or more new states. We have flown the current 50-star, 13 stripe flag since July 4, 1960, after Hawaii became a state in 1959.
In 1935, it was common practice for students to salute the flag of the United States of America as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States. However, in a small Pennsylvania school, 10-year-old Billy Gobitas refused to do so. He wrote the board of the school district, “I do not salute the flag because I have promised to do the will of God.”
In the subsequent court battles, a U.S. district court and a federal court of appeals ruled that citizens could not be compelled to show respect for the flag of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned those verdicts in 1940. The Court revisited that ruling in 1943 and reversed itself, ruling that the under the First Amendment guarantees of free speech, the government did not have the authority to make citizens salute the flag or recite the pledge.
It is ironic that our nation grants that privilege and allows citizens the right to neglect, and even disrespect, the flag of the United States of America. It also is ironic that in times of trouble or turmoil our flag is readily displayed, while in times of relative peace and tranquility there is a noticeable decline in those displays. The Lufkin Daily News is fortunate to have a place where we proudly fly our flag every day.
Today is Flag Day, commemorating the creation of our official flag. As you view the flag of the United States, we hope it reminds you of exactly what it stands for and enables each of us to be: citizens of the greatest country in the world, able to enjoy freedoms about which many people can only dream.