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Your Memorial Day Legal Roundup

A field of hundreds of American flags.  Commemorating veteran's day, memorial day or 9/11.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

For some of us, Memorial Day is a somber day of remembrance to honor those who died while serving our country. Others have big plans to get family around the grill or their boat out on the lake. And still others are just relieved to have a Monday off work.

But how did Memorial Day become a national holiday in the first place, and what specific statutes govern its celebration? Does your boss have to give you the day off? And how do you celebrate safely? Here's a review of Memorial Day-related laws and content:

1. How Did Memorial Day Become a Holiday?

President Lyndon Johnson declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1966, and we started tying the celebration to the last Monday in May in 1971. But the origins of Memorial Day are much older. Civil War officers and legislators observed Memorial Day on May 30, 1868 in Arlington Cemetery. And remembrances go back even further, even to recently freed slaves honoring dead Union soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865.

2. Memorial Day Statutes

"The last Monday in May is Memorial Day," proclaims U.S. Code Title 36, Section 116. "The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation":

  1. Calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace;
  2. Designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace;
  3. Calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and
  4. Calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.

3. Do Businesses Have to Give Federal Holidays Like President's Day Off?

The celebration is over one hundred years old and enshrined in federal law. Does that mean your boss has to give you the day off? Probably not. Private employers don't have to give their employees time off, even on days designated as holidays by the federal government, and they certainly don't need to make it paid time off. But most businesses recognize the value of giving their staff time to enjoy holidays like Memorial Day.

If you're heading out of town for the weekend, make sure you stay safe. While you want to keep a cell phone handy in case of emergency, be aware that many states have different, or conflicting laws on cell phone use while driving. And the same is true if you're planning travelling with a firearm.

5. 3 Ways to Avoid a Memorial Day DUI

Obviously, the biggest safety risk on the road during a holiday weekend is a drunk driver behind the wheel on a holiday bender. Don't let that be you.

And, of course, if you end up in any legal trouble this Memorial Day weekend, make sure to contact a local attorney for help.

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