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‘It will represent Utah from now to — I hope — forever’: Utah’s new flag is now official

Mar 9, 2024, 2:27 PM

Utah's new state flag flies in front of the Utah Capitol for the first time after a celebration to ...

Utah's new state flag flies in front of the Utah Capitol for the first time after a celebration to commemorate Utah Flag Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

(Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has seen plenty of copies of Utah’s new state flag since his bill designating the design narrowly cleared the Utah Legislature last year.

But as he arrived at the Utah Capitol Saturday morning, he felt something different as he came across a massive 60-foot-long and 30-foot-tall version of the flag hoisted in the air in front of the building by a pair of Salt Lake City Fire engines. It brought back all the memories that led to this moment.

“That was breathtaking,” he said. “We had so many people involved in this process all across the state and the first time, this flag was created with public input. Seeing all that public input culminating in this, it’s very rewarding.”

Saturday is when the new design officially became Utah’s state flag, while its previous design — created more than a century ago — became its historical one. Gov. Spencer Cox, McCay and members of the Utah Symbols Commission celebrated with a special flag-raising ceremony on the steps of the Utah Capitol.

A crowd of several dozen people of all ages — many holding miniature Utah flags and some with full-sized flags wrapped around them — cheered as the flag slowly made it to the top of the pole and began to sway in a light breeze, flying above all the other versions of flags in Utah’s history.

Gov. Spencer Cox and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, help to raise Utah’s new state flag during the commemoration of Utah Flag Day at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

It marked the near end of a multiyear process.

“It will represent Utah from now to — I hope — forever,” Cox said. “I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish over the past few years.”

The new flag’s long journey

Utah lawmakers narrowly passed legislation to designate the new flag design in March last year; however, because of an oddity in the state’s flag laws, it wasn’t official until Saturday. That’s because all passed bills can’t go into effect until at least May after a session wraps up in March, but since Utah’s Flag Day is March 9, based on when the 1911 flag was codified, the law had to wait more than a year to take effect.

But Saturday’s ceremony was also quite some time in the making beyond that.

Discussions over a new flag emerged in 2018. Former Rep. Stephen Handy said it all started when he was approached by residents who convinced him that Utah’s flag could go through a revision, so it could be more easily identifiable. Utah was one of about half of the U.S. states with a state seal slapped on a blue background.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks alongside former Rep. Steve Handy and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, to commemorate Utah Flag Day and to celebrate Utah's new state flag, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks alongside former Rep. Steve Handy and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, to commemorate Utah Flag Day and to celebrate Utah’s new state flag, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

While there were a few different attempts to either change the state flag or suggest a change in 1927, 1930 and 2022, it has remained mostly untouched since 1911. The biggest adjustment came in the form of a slight revision in 2011 to correct a printing error that emerged in the 1920s.

A pair of flag bills failed to pass the Legislature in 2019 before it passed SB48 — sponsored by McCay and Handy — in 2021. It set up the State Flag Task Force, which, in 2022, launched its “More Than a Flag” campaign. Thousands of possible designs were submitted to the state through the contest.

The field was ultimately whittled down to one final design by the end of the year before that went through some final tweaks as last year’s SB31 went through the legislative process. Seventy people split a $5,000 reward for coming up with at least a piece of the final design.

The flag’s colors and symbols have many different meanings representing Utah:

  • The blue section at the top represents Utah’s skies and also faith. It’s located above an outline of white mountains that represent Utah’s mountains and snow, while the peaks represent the state’s indigenous people. The bottom red section represents perseverance and southern Utah’s red rock scenery.
  • The beehive represents both Utah’s “industry” motto and when the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. A star placed below it represents when Utah received statehood in 1896. Both symbols are contained within a hexagon that represents strength.

SB31 also designated that the old design become the state’s historical flag after it was initially intended to become the state governor’s flag when the process began. It essentially means the state has two flags.

The military color guard rolls up the new state flag after a gathering to commemorate Utah Flag Day at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

The military color guard rolls up the new state flag after a gathering to commemorate Utah Flag Day at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

The same day Cox signed the bill, he issued an executive order that directs that the historic flag be flown at the Utah Capitol at all times, as well as at all state buildings during state holidays and any “special occasions.” It also encourages people to fly the historical flag above the state flag when they are on the same pole.

In addition to Saturday’s ceremony, Utah Capitol staff curated a new exhibit near the east entrance of the Capitol that tells the story of the state flag from an initial seal concept design in the 1890s through the new flag process.

However, the saga didn’t stop with the bill — and it’s not quite over yet.

A group opposed to the bill filed a referendum that would have put the bill up for a public vote. That ultimately failedsetting up an initiative seeking to overturn the law and put any future flag bills on the ballot. That also failed to receive enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot, but organizers are suing Utah over its initiative process.

The case is still playing out in U.S. District Court.

A symbol for years to come?

State leaders say they are confident that Utah will win out in the court case and they believe Utahns will embrace the flag as a new form of identity. They believe residents will eventually celebrate it in the way other states with easily identifiable flags have.

“I hope (people) see Utah’s values: faith, hard work, industriousness (and) strength,” McCay said, standing in front of the new flag. “This flag is all about Utah, and I hope that’s what people see when they see it.”

It seems that people have already started to do that.

DeVaughn Simper, a vexillologist at Colonial Flag, said the company has never experienced the level of state flag sales they have seen over the past year. While McCay said the new design has outsold the historical one by four times, Simper said sales of the historical flag have never been higher.

He believes this shows that the whole process has generated state pride.

“People are excited to fly the Utah flag, whether it’s the new one or the old one,” he said.

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‘It will represent Utah from now to — I hope — forever’: Utah’s new flag is now official