Everything You Need to Know About American Flag Etiquette

The Flag of the United States of America has a code of etiquette, as stipulated by U.S. federal law. This code of etiquette is known as the Flag Code. Buzzle brings you all the details you need to be acquainted with regarding the flag code, so as to be in the clear about the expected etiquette.
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American flag etiquette
Did You Know?

The United States Flag Code, Public Law 94-344 is a federal law. However, there is no penalty in case of non-compliance to the Code. The United States Supreme Court ruled that any punitive action applied would contrast with the First Amendment which grants freedom of speech to the citizens.
The Flag Code specifies certain customary dos and don'ts, keeping in line with the appropriate traditions and respect meriting the flag.

The flag can be displayed everyday, and particularly on dates mentioned in the code. It should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution in the country.

Etiquette as prescribed by the United States Flag Code

The United States Flag Code was first adopted in 1924 and amended in 1942 to the present form. The code prescribes flag etiquette to be followed in case of varied circumstances ensuring that the national symbol is treated properly.

Standard of Respect
  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
Raising and Lowering the Flag
  • The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously.
  • Normally, it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset, on stationary flagstaffs in the open. If it needs to be displayed for twenty four hours, it should be sufficiently illuminated during the night hours.
Displaying the Flag Outdoors

US Flag displayed outdoors
  • When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.
  • When it is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag―of a state, community, society or Scout unit―the flag of the United States must always be at the top. The only exception is the church pennant, which may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.
  • When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building.
  • When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor―to its own right.
  • The flag should not be subject to weather damage, so it should not be displayed during rain, snow and wind storms unless it is an all-weather flag.
Displaying the Flag Indoors

US Flag displayed indoors
  • When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Place it to the right of the speaker or staging area or sanctuary. Other flags should be placed on the left.
  • The flag should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
  • When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.
  • When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union should be at the top, to the flag's own right, and to the observer's left.
Saluting the Flag
  • The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is the longest.
  • During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute.
  • Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute.
  • All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.
  • Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention.
While Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem
  • The pledge of allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.
  • When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music.
Flag etiquette should be adhered to at all times, since it is a living symbol of national pride. Armed with these details, your flag hoisting should indeed be a smooth-sailing and patriotic affair during the coming Independence Day weekend.
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Published: July 3, 2014
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