Does Utah need a new state flag?

Jul 25, 2019, 5:16 PM
Utah State Flag...
File photo of a 1922 Utah State flag at the Utah State Historical Society. (Photo: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)
(Photo: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

Think fast! What does the Utah state flag look like? (Forget that it’s sitting above this story!)

At least one Utah lawmaker believes you can’t describe the state flag.  And he says that’s a problem.

“There are people who study flags, they’re called vexillologists. And they’ve established some principles. And Utah’s flag violates most if not all of those principles,” said Rep. Stephen G. Handy on KSL Newsradio‘s Dave and Dujanovic program on Thursday.

“You can’t draw it, it’s not memorable, it’s a bad brand,” Handy said.

Handy says he started thinking about Utah’s flag design after he was approached by three young constituents. Grudgingly calling them millennials, Handy says they told him they couldn’t relate to the flag. And he says it’s important they do because 61% of Utah’s population is under age 34.

Think fast again! When you were out and about in Utah for Days of ’47 celebrations, did you see many Utah flags? Rep. Handy says he only saw American flags. “I”ll tell you what, if we had Pioneer Day in Texas, that Texas flag would be all over the place.”

Utah flag history

Comparatively speaking, Utah’s flag is somewhat simple. It’s a version of the state seal on a blue background. Utah’s seal features an eagle with outstretched wings and a stylized version of two American flags.  Printed on the shield is the word “industry,” there’s a beehive surrounded by Sego Lilies (the state flower) and the year 1847 symbolizing the year that pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the territory that would later be Utah.

According to Utah’s Online Library, the flag as we know it today was designed in 1912 for the battleship Utah.  It became the official state flag in 1913. And it hasn’t changed since then.

What the vexillologist says

John Hartvigsen is a vexillologist who joined Rep. Handy on the Dave and Dujanovic program and disagrees with a few of the points made by Rep. Handy. He says that the Utah flag does not feature the state seal. He says it is simply based on the seal. And he bristles if somebody calls a flag ugly or wrong.

“We shouldn’t be talking in a negative way about flags. Flags are not bad flags or good flags. They’re flags to be studied,” Hartvigsen said. And he warns against casual searches online where one might find what he called “questionable” research put out in 2001 by a national organization of vexillologists that boils down a “good flag” to five things; simplicity, use of basic colors, use of meaningful symbolism, no use of lettering or seals and distinctiveness.

Hartvigsen says that politicians in many states have seen this survey and are using it to make decisions about their stage flags, namely whether the flag should be changed. “The question is,” Hartvigsen says, “is the flag recognizable and does it represent what the people who fly it want to represent?”

What do Utahns want?

To answer that question, Rep. Stephen Handy goes back to his young constituents. “My constituents pointed out that Utah’s flag doesn’t hold up to any of the five principles of flag design,” advocated by the North American Vexillological Association. “It’s not to tell history. It’s a banner. It represents a group.” He doesn’t believe Utah’s current state flag, “Represents Utah’s changing, diverse, growing, younger population. I think we can do better.”

What do you think? Please take our flag poll!

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Does Utah need a new state flag?