American Flag Etiquette

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Every day after school I would watch in amazement as the K-5 students at my son’s school lowered the flag, cared for it, folded it and then stored it away to signal the end of the school day.

It got me thinking that I ought to know how to properly show respect to our nation’s flag.

But as the 4th of July came and went, I still had not done proper research on flag etiquette.  So now, before yet another school year starts and I’m again ‘schooled’ by some elementary kids, I am learning what I should have known for all these years.

In 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution called the U.S. Flag Code.  Within those guidelines, things such as how one should act in the presence of the flag is discussed, when the flag should be hoisted, ways in which the flag should or should not be displayed, and how to properly dispose of a flag that has become too weathered to fly.

When should one display the American flag?  Any day, but especially holidays (New Years Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, etc.).  But to be most courteous, flags should be taken down in inclement weather, as well as at the end of the day.  If, however, you have a means in which to illuminate the flag at night, you may fly it proudly during dark hours as well.  Flags should be displayed at every public institution, in/near polling places on election days, and at schools on days when class is in session.

How should you properly display your flag?  If the flag is to be hung vertically or horizontally on a window, wall or door, the Union (blue starred section) should be on the observer’s left.  If the flag is raised onto a staff, the Union should be at the peak of the staff.  If the flag is not displayed on a staff, it must be displayed flat or suspended so that it’s folds fall as freely as if it were on a staff.  In a procession, the American flag must be to the right of any other flag.  If the flag appears in a row of flags, it should be in front of that center line. When the flag is used in an auditorium or church, it should proudly be displayed in a position of honor at the speaker’s right as they face the audience.  When used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder.

What if you have multiple flags that you would like to display?  If you’re living in the United States, no other flag should be placed above the position of the American flag on a staff.  The American flag should also be at the center and the highest point when displayed with a group of state flags.  When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown at the same height, however, the American flag is to be hoisted first and lowered last.

Is there a proper way in which to hoist or lower a flag?  The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered in a ritualistic manner.  On days when a flag is to be flown at half-staff, the flag should first be hoisted all the way to the peak for an instant before being lowered to the halfway point.  It should also then be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

Is there a way to blatantly disrespect our flag?  If you let the flag touch anything beneath it such as the ground, the floor or water, that is a sign of improper use.  The flag should not be dipped down to any person or thing.  The flag should never be displayed with the union stars facing down unless to signify extreme distress.  The flag should never be carried flat, but rather skyward and free-flowing.  One should never place anything on top of the flag.

What if you have a flag that is no longer healthy enough to fly?  If a flag has become tattered over the years and it’s time for a new one, the most dignified way in which to dispose of it is via burning.  Most local American Legion posts have an annual service in which they will take your old flag and ceremoniously retire it.  Your local Boy Scout troop would be another great resource to ask.

“I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom.” — John Thune

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