Utah's New State Flag: What's Changed and What It Means

Jane Cody
Utah's new state flag

On March 21, 2023, Utah state Governor Spencer Cox signed Utah's new state flag into law after a two-year effort. Although redesigning a state flag can be fraught with emotions, the state officials did everything they could to ease the transition. Utah's new state flag becomes official on March 9, 2024, giving citizens, organizations, and flag manufacturers a full year to prepare. Legislators even permit citizens to continue flying the old flag in tandem with the new. 

However, at the last minute, there is a fly in the honey, so to speak. Tracie Halverson and the people at "Are You Listening PAC" weren’t thrilled about Utah's new state flag design and took steps to prevent the law from going into effect. They demanded that all citizens should have a say on the flag via a referendum. Getting an initiative on the state ballot requires submitting a petition with a predetermined number of signatures by the state’s February 15 deadline.

The only problem was that Halverson and her group missed the deadline. So, they took Utah’s Lt. Governor Deirdre Henderson to court on the eve of the deadline. Their goal? Force the state to push back the deadline from February 15 to July 8 and place an injunction on flying Utah's new state flag in the meantime.

State leaders, including Lt. Gov. Henderson and Utah’s election director Ryan Cowley, responded by asking a U.S. District Court judge to uphold state election deadlines and deny a preliminary injunction. They argued that the election deadlines are there for a reason — to give election workers enough time to validate all the signatures and ensure everything complies with state election laws. Henderson concluded that altering the state’s election deadlines would “harm the public interest by shifting election deadlines.” 

The Search For Utah's New State Flag Design

So, why did the Utah Legislature decide to redesign the flag? What are the historical and design elements of the Utah flag that would spur such controversy? The simple answer begins in 2020 when Utah Senator Dan McCay co-sponsored a bill establishing the Utah State Flag Task Force. Its purpose? To design Utah's new state flag to reflect Utahans today and give citizens a design they would be proud to display. In other words, a “People’s Flag.”

The project to select the “People’s Flag” was dubbed “More Than Just a Flag.” It included a preliminary survey of Utah residents and an invitation to the general public and school children for suggestions on colors, symbols, and design ideas. Next, the task force hired professional artists to review the more than 7000 responses and submit designs for tweaking by vexillologists (experts who study flag design) before putting them on public display. After considering public feedback, the task force submitted the final design to the state legislature.

Utah's Historical Flags

The Utah legislature had another very practical reason for replacing the state flag. They wanted Utah's new state flag to be simple to reproduce and easily recognizable from a distance. Although Utah’s flag has undergone numerous revisions, most recently in 2013, they have been subtle changes most people don’t notice. In fact, the most significant revision happened by accident – more on that in a bit.

Utah's historical state flag

The basic design remained the same – the state shield on a field of blue. The problem is that more than a quarter of American states have the same design, making them difficult to distinguish from any distance. That kind of defeats the purpose of having a state flag!

The state seal, adopted in 1896, became the basis for the flag. The original Utahan flag went through three iterations of the seal in white and blue (1903-1913). That’s when the awkward moment happened – the one that inadvertently transformed Utah’s flag. 

It began with the commissioning of a US Navy battleship called the USS Utah. To celebrate, a group known as the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers custom ordered a copy of the state flag to present to the crew of the newly built vessel. When the flag arrived, they were shocked to discover that the manufacturers had sewn the seal in color and encircled it with a gold ring. Rather than return it, the group worked to change the official state flag. 

Perhaps that was the thinking in 1922 when manufacturers created another variant of the state flag. Instead of complying with the authoritative design where the year 1847 was on the shield, they mistakenly placed it above the statehood date (1896) below the shield. The error wasn’t discovered until 2011, when state officials realized every flag made since 1922 used the incorrect version as a model. The Legislature required that manufacturers correct all the current flags. The fact that the error went unnoticed for decades underscores one of the drawbacks of the classic design – it is too intricate to see the details. That’s a problem nobody’s likely to have with the new design.

The Meaning of Utah's New State Flag Design

Utah's new state flag design

Times have changed. Many vexillologists favor simple flag designs that use a limited color palate and have no lettering yet are unique and full of meaningful symbolism. Utah’s new state flag checks all the boxes. The letters and dates are gone, the colors are taken from the American flag with accents of gold and the design is simple enough for a child to draw. As for the symbolism, much of it was taken from the old flag: 

  • The Beehive: Taking center stage is a simple beehive, the state’s most prominent emblem and a tribute to Utah’s history and industrious culture. 
  • The Golden Ring: The gold circle outlining the state seal on the old flag represents prosperity. The new flag design features a golden hexagon around the beehive and a lone star. The classic honeycomb, one of nature’s strongest shapes, symbolizes the resilience and unity of Utahans. 
  • The Stars and Stripes: The lone, five-pointed star beneath is a reminder of Utah’s position as the 45th star on the American flag. The three blue, white, and red bars are an homage to the American flag while evoking Utah’s wide-open skies and lakes, majestic, snow-capped mountains, and red rock canyons.

The results of the lawsuit between the "Are You Listening PAC" and the State of Utah remain to be seen. In the meantime, Utahans officially transition to their new flag on March 9, 2024.

Where To Find Utah's New State Flag

You can purchase your new Utah state flag at Flags USA. Choose from an outdoor flag with a canvas and grommet heading, an indoor flag edged with gold fringe, or one finished with a pole sleeve for use with all indoor or house-mounted flagpoles. 

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