For almost 239 years, the United States’ distinctive flag of red, white, and blue has been a symbol of freedom and resistance against tyranny, both domestic and abroad. Although many Americans choose to own and fly the flag, some Americans are unfortunately unaware or do not understand the Flag Code defining the proper respect for the ownership and display of the flag.

1) Respect and Ownership

The United States flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, whether President of the United States, a member of Congress or the Supreme Court, or a foreign leader.

The actual United States flag should not be used as drapery for covering a speaker’s desk, podium, or any object; it should not be used as decoration for any purpose. If someone did want to decorate patriotically, it would be appropriate to use red, white, and blue bunting.

The flag should not be defaced through drawing, lettering, painting, embroidering, or otherwise writing on the flag.

It should never touch anything that is beneath it, such as the ground, water, or merchandise.

The flag should be kept in good condition, unsoiled, and mended when torn. When the flag’s condition becomes too poor to display the flag, it should be disposed of in a respectful manner. Some organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and local Scout troops often have flag burning ceremonies. Ask your local organizations if they will dispose of a flag for you with proper respect.

 2) Displaying the Flag

Americans may fly the flag at any time they feel it is appropriate. It is particularly appropriate and important to fly the flag on important holidays, including standard holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, as well as patriotic holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, Patriot Day (half-staff), Constitution Day, and Veterans Day.

Americans should not fly the flag when it is raining, sleeting, snowing, or in other cases of bad weather, unless they are flying an all weather flag. When the flag is flown overnight, it should be illuminated through a spotlight.

Flying the flag at half-staff, the flag should first be raised to the top of the pole for a moment before lowering it to half-staff. When the flag is taken down at the end of the day, it should again be raised to the top of the flagpole before being lowered. The United States president and the governors of states can order flags in the country or in their respective states to be flown at half-staff for specific times of mourning in the country or state.

When multiple flags are flying together on flagpoles, the United States flag should always be on its own right. It should be hoisted first and lowered last. When multiple flags are displayed together on staffs, the United States flag should be in the center and at the highest point. When the flag is displayed on crossed staffs with another flag, the flag should be on its own right with its staff in front of the other staff. If the flag is flown on the same pole as other flags, it should be at the top of the pole. Finally, if the United States flag is being flown alongside the flags of other sovereign nations, all the flags should have their own poles of the same height and the flags should be approximately the same size. This is standard international peacetime usage of the flag.

 3) Saluting the Flag

United States citizens should salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance, during the ceremony of hoisting and lowering the flag, and when the flag is passing during a parade. It is only necessary to salute the first flag in a parade. It is also appropriate for citizens to salute the flag during the playing or singing of the national anthem.

The citizen salute to the flag is placing the right hand over the heart. Those wearing hats should remove their hat and hold it at their left shoulder so their right hand covers the heart. Citizens in uniform should give a military salute.

 4) The Flag as Patriotic Clothing

It is not, under any circumstances, acceptable to cut or sew the flag in order to style it as clothing. However, it is appropriate to wear flag-themed clothing that is not made from an actual flag. The flag itself should not be worn as a cape, but bunting or a red, white, and blue styled cape would be appropriate.

The United States flag should not be used as costume or as a part of an athletic uniform, except in cases when the flag patch is embroidered onto military, police, fire, and other patriotic organizations’ uniforms.

Every patriotic American wants to show their respects to the flag that represents liberty for so many around the world. Unfortunately, many Americans are not acquainted with the flag code, which leads to accidental disrespect. For any questions that were not answered above, the United States Flag code can be found using a simple internet search. Additionally, the American Legion offers an online–the Flag Expert–that will answer specific questions about the flag. Educate yourself and become an advocate for the stars and stripes.

Cat B
FFL Contributor