A Gold Fringe Infringement on the American Flag?!

During our District Roundtable last month, one of the Staff members shared his perspective about gold fringe on the flag of the United States with a term I had never heard before: “Admiralty Law”.  He gave very stern instructions to remove any American flag from our units with this gold fringe, because of what he said it stands for (no nation, no constitution). 

Huh?? …our Troop uses a flag like this!!  It was purchased long before I was ever asked to be the Scoutmaster.  The first time I saw it, I remember thinking how beautifully decorated this flag was – a fancy embellishment for special occasions, like a Pack Meeting or Court of Honor.  That gold fringe never once crossed my mind as being any kind of violation of this great country, our Constitution or any United States Code.  So this information came as a surprise to me and caused some confusion and concern.

I immediately started looking into our alleged “infringement”.  WOW!!  Are there ever a lot of differing opinions, false quotes and misguided interpretations about the meaning of gold fringe on an American flag!  As my research continued, I found nothing specifically declared about fringe of any color in the U.S. Code yet I really wanted an authoritative source to give a definitive statement about this issue.

My efforts did find several web pages that referenced the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry as the official custodian of our Flag’s design.  While the answer to this falsehood is not found on TIOH’s Frequently Asked Questions, their reply to an email I sent stated:

Gold fringe is used on the National flag as an honorable enrichment only.  It is not regarded as an integral part of the flag and its use does not constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statutes. 

Records of the Department of the Army indicate that fringe was used on the National flag as early as 1835 and its official use by the Army dates from 1895.  There is no record of an Act of Congress or Executive Order which either prescribes or prohibits the addition of fringe, nor is there any indication that any symbolism was ever associated with it.  The use of fringe is optional with the person or organization displaying the flag.

Furthermore, a 1925 Attorney General’s Opinion (34 Op Atty. Gen 483) states:

The fringe does not appear to be regarded as an integral part of the Flag, and its presence cannot be said to constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statute. An external fringe is to be distinguished from letters, words, or emblematic designs printed or superimposed upon the body of the flag itself.  Under law, such additions might be open to objection as unauthorized; but the same is not necessarily true of the fringe.

The US Army Institute of Heraldry added in their email response:

It is customary to place gold fringe on silken (rayon-silk-nylon) National flags that are carried in parades, used in official ceremonies, and displayed in offices, merely to enhance the beauty of the flag.  The use of fringe is not restricted to the Federal Government.  Such flags are used and displayed by our Armed Forces, veterans, civic and civilian organizations and private individuals.  However, it is the custom not to use fringe on flags displayed from stationary flagpoles and, traditionally, fringe has not been used on internment flags.

Honestly, I would like TIOH’s FAQ to clearly affirm that fringe is considered completely within the guidelines of proper flag etiquette.  Wouldn’t that put to rest all of this debate?  Unfortunately, the email I received from a Program Analyst at TIOH informed me that:

We do not include this information on our website because we no longer answer questions on the US Flag for civilians – only the official use by the Army which is covered in our regulations.

Not sure why this regulation was made.  Without a formal AND public statement from the official office responsible for the design of this National symbol, it kinda makes this dispute tough to argue…doesn’t it?

In any case, here are numerous court decisions that also reject this idea of a gold fringe infringement.  I’m sure there will remain naysayers even after all this proof.  For me, I’ve spent enough time digging into the subject and got what I needed to support my original belief: there is no symbolic meaning here at all.  So with that, we are keeping our gold-fringed flag and will so proudly hail it, one nation under God, indivisible, with libert and justice for all!


NOTE: There are several websites out there referencing a book that supposedly debunks the myth of gold fringe.  It’s called So Proudly We Hail, The History of the United States Flag by Rear Admiral William Furlong and Commodore Byron McCandless, published by the Smithsonian Institute Press in 1981.  Unfortunately, I have combed through those pages FOUR times and can NOT find anything that makes any mention of gold fringe.  That’s too bad too since the cover flap of this book reads:

“A richly illustrated history of the American flag, So Proudly We Hail weaves the facinating and definitive story of the country’s central symbol from colonization to the present.

Written by Rear Admiral William Rea Furlong, designer of the new star arrangement when the 49th and 50th stars were added to the flag and, Commodore McCandless, a consultant to three presidents on flag protocol, this book is eminenty readable as well as authoritative.

So Proudly We Hail is the first broadly researched history of the United States flag that includes both historical and technological information, and becomes the most up-to-date account of the history of our nation’s flag.  It will stand as the definitive reference book on this subject for many years to come.”

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13 Responses to A Gold Fringe Infringement on the American Flag?!

  1. Dennis says:

    If there is ANY question at all about using a flag with the fringe, why use it at all?
    The Flag Code specifies that no adornment must be added to the United States flag upon its surface. Then, why should it be allowed anywhere on the flag, even on its edge?

    Besides: why pay extra for a flag to have a controversial decoration on its edge, when
    having such additional adornment is a cause for controversy?

  2. Jay says:

    You people are hopelessly blind. Read a traffic ticket(contract) for Crying out loud. The only ones who don’t understand the law are you people. Why does one need to become a part of a British Club (BAR-British Accreditation Registry) to practice law in America? Why is this mandatory? Think about it. Look up what “Attorn” actualy means and realize that attorneys are not actually even Lawyers! Who do they tale an oath to? Why are they called Esquires(Title of Nobility)? Sigh

  3. Mike Jones says:

    This is one the fruitloop conspiracy theory nutcases favorite flags to wave (pun intended), just look at the drivel drooling from the slack jaws of imbeciles like Bilzer Blitzer. To compound the confusion one of their ilk modified a copy of 4USC to read that the gold fringe specifically indicates maritime admiralty law and then released the fraudulent version into the wild (internet), and that was all it took for legions of the easily manipulated to claim it as an absolute fact.

  4. Mike says:

    Thank you for pushing back against bad information. I hope you corrected the person at your next RoundTable.

    The ONLY law governing the use, display and design of the US Flag is the Flag Code. A search on that exact phrase should return several reliable copies of the Code. The Flag Code is silent on the use of fringe – it is neither required nor prohibited. (The Flag Code is also silent on the use of finials, another area with lots of misinformation.) As your research noted above, the fringe has no political, legal or other meaning. It is an optional honor.

    There are, however, some traditions about fringe that stem from practical concerns. You do not, for example, fly a fringed flag from a flagpole – the wind catches and rapidly degrades a fringed flag. For another example, you generally do not use a fringed flag for a static indoor display because it loses that “special” honor or recognition that the fringe was meant to bring. For a third example, fringed flags are never used as internment flags. Even though there is no law against it, it would be inherently confusing – is your focus in that event to honor the flag or to honor the deceased? The fringe would be a distraction in that circumstance.

    Finally, I strongly recommend against the use of a fringed flag for Cub Scouts. I say this because of the weight it adds to the flag. Webelos can handle it but when it’s the Tigers turn to bring in the flag, they really struggle. It’s also a lot harder to learn how to fold a fringed flag. Don’t set them up for failure. Let your Cubs use a plain flag.

  5. Bilzer Blitzer says:

    As a navy guy i can tell you that the color and fringe are an absolute its not a conspiracy to lay out the facts of fringe and color variations. As a matter of fact the last time i entered a california court and there were california and usa flags with blue fringe and red fringe but no gold fringe.

    not only is it important it is the comunication means of a class of overlords that eminate from masonary , the vatican state and the united nations one only needs to look in the bylaws of the united nations and the CFR transcription of the bilderburger (*actualy called olympians) to note that it is a means of heirarchy identification and station. those who lambast that its all kooks are themselves suspect. it is a game of hypnosis and diatribe used to controll masses all the while making plain thier intentions gold Amirality over the see ( the holy see) (under the angelo saxon/austriahungary administration) given by the papacy. do not doubt me additionaly during this period before the one world goverment and its transition you will find these red and blue fringed flags in your courts and county facilities as they are systematicly absorbed by fiat. blue dropping the admirality heirarchy for the rule of masonic states under the authority of decendancy of the kingship of solomon. And they shall make the ephod [of] gold, [of] blue, and [of] purple, [of] scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. exodus says in the Torah. and it is of note the revelations says And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!

    this is the language of the iniates of babylon of icon of color of flag and fringe
    if you want to know what they are up to, look into hearlds ( shields of arms) flags, and flag colors

    just for practice look at all the red white and blue countries ,,,,notice they are all the colors of the english flag, thats not an accedent and red to represent the direct authority of papal rule

  6. Kiwi-Ian says:

    Let’s state quite categorically that the fringe on the flag is an adornment only and carries no meaning whatsoever. Those who put forward theories about martial law, admiralty law, foreign soil etc are confused (and generally don’t actually understand the law).

    US Code Title 4 defines the flag. Executive Order 10834 also defines the flag (they work together as the law on the flag, the EO allows the president to add stars etc for new states without passing a new law). Nowhere is a fringe mentioned, neither do they mention or define what a military flag is. These are public documents and can be accessed at most public libraries and on the net.

    In 1925, following comment on the use of a fringe, the Attorney General stated that the fringe was an adornment and did not in any way change the meaning of the flag. It must be said here that a little flag protocol should be understood. A fringe is added to the outside of the flag, it does not change the flag itself. If it were added inside the borders, it would “deface” the flag and possibly change the meaning. Defacing is not necessarily a bad thing. The New Zealand national flag is a British Blue Ensign defaced with 4 red stars.

    The Institute of Heraldry is an army institute (for medieval historical reasons) and defines the flag as used by the army and related forces (National Guard etc). Army Regulations 840-10 explicitly state that a fringe is “used on flags for enrichment only. It is not regarded as an integral part of any flag and its use does not constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statutes” (copied from the Attorney General’s 1925 decision). The use of the fringe is restricted to indoors and flags carried by a bearer. Outdoor flags on a pole must not have a fringe. So the military fly both fringed and unfringed flags.

    Interestingly for those that believe that the fringe means military law, the US Marine Corps Flag Manual states “The use of fringe on national colors or standards within the Marine Corps is prohibited” (Sect D Art 2a). That is, the Marines ban the fringe on the Stars and Stripes (but not their own standard).

    Also interestingly, for those that believe that the fringe indicates Admiralty Law, no ship of the USN flies a fringed flag (though the bridge may have a fringed flag if a flag is present).

    As far as a fringed flag representing foreign soil, this is rubbish. The American flag flying over the US embassy in Paris merely indicates the pre-existing status of US sovereign territory. The US flag, fringed or not, at the American School in Paris is on sovereign French soil. Flying a French flag in your garden on Bastille Day does not render your garden French territory.

    The reason that you were having difficulties finding the meaning of the fringe is that there isn’t one to define. None of the official sources, or the protocol sources, or international heraldry institutes, say anything except that the fringe can be used for adornment. Why should they?

    To give a analogous example, nowhere does it state that wearing white boots at a barbecue doesn’t mean that you are Hindu. That’s because it doesn’t. But try and find a site that states that.

  7. Larry G, UC says:

    Good grief, first the “uniform police”, now the “flag police”, I shudder to think what might be next…

    It always seems the people with the fastest and biggest mouths are the ones who fail to double check their own “facts” before beating their shoe on a pulpit.

  8. Brian Martin says:

    Google “army color guard”. Almost every picture that comes up shows the US flag with gold fringe. If the US Army doesn’t have a problem with the fringe, then I don’t either.

    • Lord_Beavis says:

      The Army doesn’t have a problem with it and won’t make an official declaration about it because they are not the Army of the United States of America.

      Wake up sheeple!

  9. Eric says:

    Nice job with the research. It’s always a good thing, when someone says that “it is so…” to verify if it really is so. There are so many “codified traditions” out there, it’s ridiculous what some will say is the right way, without knowing why they believe it. It’s great when a tradition, right or wrong, is verified or debunked with authority (not that it will change the minds of the true believers to quote them chapter and verse).

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