‘The Belgian Nation adopts red, yellow and black colours’

July 1, 2014
BelgiumFlag

Dr. Jogchum Vrielink (University of Leuven) notes:

“The Belgian Nation adopts red, yellow and black for its colours” (art. 193 Belgian Constitution).

Wait. What?

Shouldn’t that be the other way around: black, yellow and red?

Belgium must be the only country whose official flag is, strictly speaking, ‘unconstitutional’ — although lawyers are quick to point out that this is, in fact, not the case, since the Constitution does not expressly dictate that the order in which the colours are mentioned must coincide with their appearance on the flag: a line of reasoning that only lawyers tend to be susceptible to…

The colour shuffle can be traced back to the period after the Belgian revolution of 1830. The flag indeed started out as a tricolour of red over yellow over black. Its bands, moreover, were horizontal, rather then the present-day vertical ones. Early on, the bands were rotated 90 degrees, most likely for symbolic reasons, while the order was changed for aesthetic reasons some time later.

In doing the latter, however, no one bothered to revise the draft Constitution. Nor was the document ever amended afterwards on this point. And thus the mismatch between the actual flag and its constitutional foundation has endured for almost two centuries by now.

You know what this means, don’t you? If Belgium beats the U.S., it won’t be valid!

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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