As we get ready to celebrate Independence Day in the United States, the nation will soon be full of the sights and sounds that mark this midsummer holiday. From fireworks to marching bands, people all over the country celebrate in their own special way, but perhaps the one holiday tradition that honors our country more than any is the raising of the American flag. As we once again salute our most iconic symbol of freedom, we want to remind everyone that there are rules of protocol to follow when displaying the flag to show the honor and respect it deserves.
If you plan to fly an American flag from a home or public building, remember that it should be angled upwardly from any structure. The union of the flag (the 50 stars) should always be placed at the peak unless the flag is at half-staff. If a flag is suspended from a rope that extends from the building on a pole, the flag should be hoisted out, union first from the building. If you are displaying your flag someplace other than from a staff, it should be displayed flat, or suspended so that its folds fall free. When displayed over a street, be sure to place the union so it faces north or east, depending upon the direction of the street.
If carrying the flag in a parade or in procession with other flags, the U.S. flag should be either on the marching right (the flag’s right) or to the front and center of the flag line. If displayed on a float in a parade, the flag should be hung from a staff or suspended so it falls free—and never draped over a vehicle.
When flags of states, cities or organizations are flown on the same staff, the U.S. flag must always be at the top. In a group of flags displayed from staffs, the U.S. flag should be at the center and at the highest point. When displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the U.S. flag should be on its own right (left to a person facing the wall) and its staff should be in front of the other flag’s staff.
Despite the urge to have American flags as part of an overall Independence Day decoration scheme, Old Glory should never be used as tablecloths, apparel or any other nontraditional use. One exception is a flag patch which may be attached to the uniform of patriotic organizations, military personnel, police officers and firefighters.
Flag themed decorations such as paper plates, napkins, or any other item beyond a flag’s intended use are also discouraged. The flag is our most treasured and iconic American symbol and proper respect should be given to it in all circumstances. A slight exception to this rule is the use of red, white and blue bunting—an acceptable decoration because bunting only shares the same color of the flag and not the design itself. If you do use bunting, remember to do so with the blue at the top and red at the bottom.
Time and Weather
U.S. flag protocol dictates that the flag should be displayed in public only from sunrise to sunset—especially if it is on a public building, a school or a polling place during election season. However, if the flag is properly illuminated, it can be flown during the night. Despite some people flying a flag continuously, the flag should not be subjected to weather damage and should not be displayed during rain or snow—unless the flag is made from weatherproof materials.
Stand and Salute
As a flag is hoisted or lowered or when it passes in a parade or review, Americans should stand at attention facing the flag and place their right hand over the heart.
Uniformed military members should render a military salute. Military members not in uniform should remove any headdress and hold it with their right hand at their left shoulder with the hand resting over the heart. For those who are not U.S. citizens, protocol dictates that they should simply stand at attention.
Some other flag protocol rules to follow:
Never let the flag touch anything beneath it, including the ground, floor, water or merchandise.
Never place anything on a flag, including letters, insignia, or designs of any kind. And never use a flag for holding anything.
Never store the flag where it can get dirty.
Never fasten a flag or tie it back—always allowing it to fall free.
Never fly the flag upside down—unless there is an emergency. Displaying a flag in this manner is a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
When the flag is worn out or unsuitable for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably in a safe burning.
To learn more about flag etiquette, read the full U.S. Flag Code