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Main Mall Flagpoles:

Is the Texas State Flag Above the Law?Jasper Johns, Three Flags

Sarah A. Novak

The University of Texas at Austin

Experimental Psychology Practice Paper



        In many states, laws prohibit flying the state flag as high or higher than the American flag.  This study uses the flags displayed on the Main Mall at the University of Texas at Austin as a case study to determine whether such a law is upheld in Texas.  It was hypothesized that the poles were the same height since Texas is a renegade within the country.  Photographs of each flagpole and a person of known height were analyzed to create proportions that could be compared.  Repeated measurements of the two photographs showed that, as predicted, there was not a significant difference between the heights of the flagpoles.  Because the flags fly at the same height, one can assume that there is not a law currently enforced that makes it illegal to fly the Texas state flag as high as the American flag.



The two flagpoles measured in this experiment are on public display on the Main Mall at the University of Texas at Austin.  A person agreed to be photographed with each pole without compensation.  The photographs were taken with a Polaroid camera and film.  A metal ruler was used to take measurements in units of inches with divisions of 1/32 of an inch.


See Figure 1 for a visual representation of the experimental procedure.  An individual of known, constant height (B) was recruited to be photographed next to the flagpoles in order to determine the height of each (D1,D2).  The person was asked to wear a dark cap and dark shoes to make them more visible, thereby making his height more defined in the pictures.  The pictures were taken from equal distances (A1, A2) and at a constant height (C).  The photographs were each measured five times by each of two investigators for a total of twenty measurements.  These measurements were compared statistically to determine whether or not the difference in heights was significant at an alpha level of .05.

Figure 1.  The approximate arrangement for photographing the person and each of the flagpoles.  B and C are constant heights while distances A1 and A2 are as close to equivalent as possible.  D1 and D2 are the heights to be determined.


As predicted, the measured difference between the heights of the Texas and American flagpoles was not statistically significant.  With an alpha level of .05, a t test showed that the heights were not significantly different, t(18) = 1.38, p > .10.  See Figure 2 for visual representation of the data.

Figure 2.  Mean of the Texas flag (M = 68.59) and U.S. flag (M = 69.3) in feet with error    bars depicting the standard error of the mean (+/- 0.45).


Unlike the flags of other states, the Texas state flag flies just as high as the American flag.  The null hypothesis that the flagpoles are not the same height was rejected.  Though perhaps less precise than other methods, the procedure followed in this experiment was mathematically simple, readily repeatable, and cost-effective when compared to other options.

Why do these flags defy the norm and fly at the same height?  This probably has something to do with the fact that Texas was once a republic.  The federal government delegates many powers to state government, and apparently those powers include jurisdiction over flag-flying.  Texas has had a long history of “flag issues” and frequently displays as many as six different flags at a time out of sheer confusion (a illness known as “multiple flag disorder”).

Of course, it is possible that such a law does exist and that it is simply not being enforced in this particular situation.  If this is the case, it will surely bring shame to all law-abiding (though geometrically challenged) R.O.T.C. members and the attentive University of Texas Police Department.  If the flagpoles are violating a little-known law, it will require the attention of the ambitious governor of this state, especially since he works and lives virtually within sight of the specious poles.  A survey of other prominent state and national flag pairs in addition to a review of Texas state laws will help settle this controversial dispute once and for all.