Flag Etiquette: How to Show your Respect for our Nation’s Most Beloved Symbol of Freedom

PSOW Staff - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

At 240 years old this year, Old Glory certainly lives up to its name and we will once again have the honor of displaying our nation’s “Stars and Stripes” to commemorate the upcoming Independence Day holiday. But before you raise your red, white and blue on July 4, make sure you are up on your flag etiquette to ensure you are paying your proper respects to one of our nation’s most respected symbols.

Exterior Display Protocol

When displaying the American flag from a balcony or your home or office, it should be hung from a securely mounted staff attached to a building, with the union (or blue field containing the stars) at the peak (or top) of the staff. If you are displaying a flag suspended over a sidewalk, the flag’s stars should be farthest from the building. When displaying a flag flat against an exterior wall—vertically or horizontally—the flag’s stars should be at the flag’s own right, which is to an observer’s left.

You should always display the flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and outdoor stationary flagstaffs. However, a flag can be displayed 24 hours a day if it is illuminated during sundown. As far as weather concerns, the flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except if you are using an all-weather flag.

As far as adornments, it is perfectly acceptable to place a symbolic finial on your flagstaff. For example, the President, the Vice President, and many federal agencies use an eagle finial. Indoor flags are often presented with a golden fringe but, in general, it’s not a good idea to have a fringe on an outdoor flag as they deteriorate too quickly.

Remember that a flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise. However, contrary to the popular misconception, a flag need not be burned if it simply touches the ground. If the flag remains in good condition after falling to the ground by mistake, be sure to pick it up as soon as possible and rehang it. But if the flag is no longer in good condition, then it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Interior Display Protocol

Just as in exterior wall use, when displaying a flag flat against an interior wall—vertically or horizontally—the flag’s stars should be at the flag’s own right, which is to an observer’s left.

If displaying a flag in a window, the stars should be uppermost to the left of the observer in the street.

When using a flag at a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be hung above and behind the speaker. Inappropriate usage includes a flag being used to cover the speaker’s table or podium or being draped to cover the front of a platform.

Other uses of the Flag—both acceptable and unacceptable

Although you probably see a lot of flag apparel this time of year, it is not acceptable. According to the US Code Title 4 Chapter 1 (The Flag) states, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” However, if you still want to promote patriotism on your t-shirts or other items, it is perfectly acceptable to include items that are emblazoned with our national colors (red, white and blue).

Likewise, a flag should never be used as a decoration, such as a tablecloth or tent. The flag should also never be used for advertising or promotional purposes such as paper napkins, paper plates or any other items deemed “temporary” or “disposable.” It sends a very bad message to see these items end up in a garbage can at the end of a day celebrating our nation’s heritage. A good alternative? Simply buy party decor that has a mix of our national colors to show your patriotism. One exception to this rule is the use of mini flags that should be treated with the same respect as real flags. These are especially good for children, so they can learn how to respect our nation’s most precious symbol beginning at an early age.

Above all else, when considering proper flag etiquette, always remember to respect our flag during a public ceremony or during the playing of the National Anthem. When the flag is presented in this situation, you should face the flag and stand at attention with your right hand over your heart. At 240 years old, it’s the very least we can do to pay our respects to this most treasured symbol of patriotism and freedom.

To learn more about flag etiquette, read the full U.S. Flag Code:

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