Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1955 No. 87 - June 03, 1955
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

STATE FLAG ‑- POWERS OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE

The secretary of state may prescribe reasonable regulations or conditions for the state flag before he gives his written consent for the reproduction of the state seal by a manufacturer of state flags.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    June 3, 1955

Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 87

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion on the following questions:

            1.         "Does the secretary of state have authority to request that no manufacturers shall reproduce our state flag without first obtaining written permission from his office?"

            2.         "Does the secretary of state have authority to prescribe that an official state flag shall contain the reproduction of the state seal on both sides to that the wording shall be read correctly no matter which side is viewed?"

            3.         "Does the secretary of state have authority to establish standards for the manufacturers of state flags ‑ such standards to include the size of the state seal in proportion to the length and width of the flag and the shade of green to be used as the background?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Each of your questions is answered in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 1.20.010 provides for the state flag, as follows:

            "The official flag of the state of Washington shall be of dark green silk or bunting and shall bear on its center a reproduction of the seal of the state embroidered, printed, painted, or stamped thereon.  The edges of the flag may, or may not, be fringed.  If a fringe is used the same shall be of gold or yellow color of the same shade as the seal.  The dimensions of the flag may vary."

            Article III, § 18, of the state constitution provides that

            "There shall be a seal of the state kept by the secretary of state for official purposes, which shall be called, 'The Seal of the State of Washington.'"

            RCW 91.01.050 provides that

            "It shall be unlawful for any individual, person, firm, association, or corporation to use or make any die of the state seal, or any impression thereof, for any use whatsoever, unless written permission has first been obtained for the use of the same from the secretary of state.

            "Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            1. Since, under RCW 1.20.010, the seal is an integral and essential part of the state flag, it is plainly unlawful to reproduce the flag itself without written permission from the secretary of state.

            2. The history of flags dates back at least to feudal England.  The usage of heraldry was then prevalent, and shields bore the crest of the lord of the manor.  Crests were later placed on banners and hung against the walls.  Perhaps due to limitations in the processes of tapestry or weaving, such banners normally could be read from one side only.  It is a matter of common knowledge, however, that flags are now made reversible, and legible from either side.  We think that a flag in this mode was envisioned by the legislature in its enactment of RCW 1.20.010.  It follows that the secretary of state might properly make it a condition precedent to written permission for use of the state seal that flags bearing that seal be reversible.

            3. The statutory restrictions upon the state flag, as set out in RCW 1.20.010,supra, are to a degree explicit.  The question is whether the secretary of state can define those restrictions more closely.  It seems plain that the legislative intent was to secure general uniformity in the state flag, as to color and design.  The requirement of written permission from the secretary of state for reproduction of the state seal,for any use whatsoever, made a measure to insure effect for that intent.  Discretion in determining whether any particular use would be appropriate has thus been given to the secretary.

            In view of the renewed activity in state flag-making, engendered by chapter 88, Laws of 1955, it is patently desirable that flag manufacturers be informed as to the type of flag which would be approved by the secretary.  A general statement of that nature, designed to prevent the appearance of incongruous versions of the flag which might subvert the dignity and respect due both flag and seal, accompanied by an indication of reasonable standards, would be lawful and proper.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust that the foregoing analysis will prove helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

MAURICE M. EPSTEIN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo