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American Flag Etiquette


My husband got a flagpole and some new flags for Christmas. It took us until the end of March to pick a spot in our yard, dig a hole, and install the pole in our yard.  Old Glory is finally flying! He’s super proud! With Memorial Day coming up I thought it would be great idea to talk about American flag etiquette, because a lot of people just aren’t sure.

First of all, what’s the proper way to display a flag?

There are few options – you can fly out from a pole, attach it to a wall with tacks, or tape it over a window. Just don’t tie it to a tree or drape it over the side of a car, a train or a boat. These are all signs of disrespect, according to the official US Flag Code, adopted by Congress in 1942.

Next, how should the flag be oriented?

The union, also known as the stars, should always be in the upper left hand corner. An upside down flag is actually a distress signal. If you’re displaying a state flag next to the American flag, both flags should be at the same height and the United States flag should be on the observers left.

Flying three flags?

Place Old Glory in the center. As long as it’s on top, the American flag can share a pole with a state or organization flag, too. However, you should never hang two national flags on the same pole.

Can I leave it up all the time?

If it’s inside, yes. But outdoor flags should be illuminated at night by a spotlight, a streetlamp, or garage light, or taken down at sunset. Fold neatly and stow it in a dry place, like a drawer or linen closet.

What should I do if my flag looks worn?

Stitch up small tears with a needle and thread. Stained or dirty flags should be dry cleaned, some cleaners will do this free of charge around the 4th of July. When a flag becomes frayed along the edges or the red stripes faded paint, replace it. Flying a worn out flag is one of the most serious of flag offenses.

How do you dispose of a flag?

Throwing a flag in the garbage is disrespectful. Believe it or not, according to the United States flag code, burning it is the right thing to do. When done ceremoniously and in private, rather than in protest, setting fire to the flag isn’t a sacrilege. Worried about safety? Make America and your local fire marshal proud by dropping off your flag at the nearest American Legion office. Find one at Legion.org. Its members will incinerate it for you. Another option is to give it to a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troop to burn at a campfire flag burning ceremony. You can find other information at US Flag Code.

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Federal law stipulates many aspects of flag etiquette. The section of law dealing with American Flag etiquette is generally referred to as the Flag Code. Some general guidelines from the Flag Code answer many of the most common questions:

  • The flag should be lighted at all times, either by sunlight or by an appropriate light source.
  • The flag should be flown in fair weather, unless the flag is designed for inclement weather use.
  • The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
  • The flag should not be used for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.
  • The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it, or attached to it.
  • The flag should never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
  • The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
  • When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner

Here is a little more information about our flag. I didn’t realize that on Memorial Day, you are supposed to “raise the flag  to the top briskly in the morning, then slowly lower it to half-staff,” then at noon, it should be raised to the top again.