O Say Can You See: Etiquette for Displaying the American Flag

O Say Can You See: Etiquette for Displaying the American Flag

Julia Brenner
Jul 4, 2012

What better day to review the official U.S. code of etiquette for displaying the American flag than the 4th of July? Grab a sparkler, class is in session.

Did you know that there is an official U.S. Flag Code? Really? You did? Oh, me too. I totally knew that...er, sure I did. Anyway! Yes, the Federal Flag Code does exist and can be found under United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1.

The code used today was approved in 1942 by President Roosevelt as a set of guidelines regarding proper etiquette for civilians to follow when displaying the American flag. However, the very first Flag Act was passed by the Continental Congress back in 1777 to establish that the flag would have "thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

According to the U.S. Senate, the etiquette prescribed in the code is not mandatory in the legal sense but is encouraged so that proper respect is shown to the flag. The flag code is rather intensive, so here are some highlights (pretty interesting!):

• A U.S. flag must have 13 horizontal stripes, alternating red and white, and 50 stars representing the 50 states in the union.

• When raising the flag, it should be "raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously". It should be saluted as it is raised and lowered.
• The flag should be displayed between sunrise and sunset; if it is displayed at night it should be illuminated.
• When displaying the flag from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be positioned at the top of the flag staff unless the flag is at half-staff.
• When displaying the flag over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union facing north or east.
• The flag should not be displayed outdoors when there is rain or snow, unless an all-weather flag is used.
• The flag should always be placed to its own right, with any other flags to the left.

Unacceptable Use of the Flag:
• The flag should never be dipped lower than a person and should only be placed upside down to signal distress.
• The flag should never be displayed, used, or stored in a way that would permit it to be easily damaged.
• The flag should never be used as drapery or for decorative purposes; red, white, and blue bunting can be used instead.
• The flag should not be embroidered or printed on any sort of temporary décor or home good (e.g., handkerchief, boxes, napkins), or anything that will be discarded after temporary usage.
• The flag should never have any additional markings, symbols, or drawings of any kind attached to it.
• The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, or carrying anything.
• The flag should never be used for advertising purposes.

• Finally, when the U.S. flag is in a condition that it is no longer able to be displayed, it should disposed of in a respectful way, preferably by burning.

Phew! And those are only some of the standards. There are even more codes of etiquette, which you can read all about at The U.S. Senate's reference page on the Federal Flag Code.

Did you get all that? Good. There will be a quiz on Friday. I kid. Happy 4th of July!

(Image: Julia Brenner)

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