Questions and answers surrounding the display of the American flag.
General Flag Etiquette
The Flag Code suggests that when a flag has served its useful purpose, “it should be destroyed, preferably by burning.” For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration. Many American Legion posts conduct disposal of unserviceable flag ceremonies on June 14, Flag Day. Such ceremonies are particularly dignified and solemn occasions for the retirement of unserviceable flags. To find an American Legion post near you to assist with dignified disposal, visit Find a Post (mylegion.org).
The U.S. Flag Code states that the flag should not touch anything beneath it, including the ground. This is stated to indicate that care should be exercised in the handling of the flag, to protect it from becoming soiled or damaged. You are not required to destroy the flag when this happens. As long as the flag remains suitable for display, even if washing or dry-cleaning is required, you may continue to display the flag as a symbol of our great country.
The U.S. Flag Code does allow members of the Armed Forces and veterans not in uniform to render the right hand salute, but does not mandate it. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation where the flag is being raised, lowered or is passing in review, the traditional right hand over the heart – with the hat removed – is still a viable and very respectful alternative.
When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America, should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Prior to the Flag Code changes in 1976, the display procedure was somewhat different. Now the staffed flag should always be placed to the right of the speaker without regard to a platform or floor level.
The Flag Code states it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. The American Legion interprets “proper illumination” as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.
The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, with the exception of an all-weather (nylon or other non-absorbent material) flag. However, most flags are made of all-weather materials.
The U.S. Flag Code suggests displaying the flag every day, but especially on holidays, including state holidays and during local celebrations.
The U.S. Flag Code suggests the flag be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution, in or near every polling place on election days and in or near every schoolhouse when school is in session.
No, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.
The church pennant consists of a blue Latin cross or a blue Star of David on a white background. It is entirely nonsectarian and is flown as a signal that church services are in progress.
The “right” as the position of honor developed from the time when the right hand was the “weapon hand” or “point of danger.” The right hand, raised without a weapon, was a sign of peace. The right hand, to any observer, is the observer’s left. Therefore, as used in the Flag Code, the flag and/or blue field is displayed to the observer’s left, which is the flag’s “own right.”
Regardless of the number of United States flags, each would be displayed in accordance with Flag Code provisions. For most functions more than one flag is unnecessary. For a patriotic display as a show of color, the flags may be displayed as common sense and good taste would dictate.
The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:
- New Year’s Day, January 1
- Inauguration Day, January 20
- Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January
- Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
- Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February;
- Easter Sunday (variable)
- Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
- Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
- Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
- Flag Day, June 14
- Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
- Independence Day, July 4
- National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27
- Labor Day, first Monday in September
- Constitution Day, September 17
- Columbus Day, second Monday in October
- Navy Day, October 27
- Veterans Day, November 11
- Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
- Christmas Day, December 25
- Any such other days
- as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
- the birthdays of States (date of admission) – Idaho is July 3
- and on State holidays.
This gesture is a sign to indicate the nation or state mourns the death of an individual(s). (Naval and Military Custom)
- The flag is half-staffed on Memorial Day, from sunrise until noon; it is displayed at full-staff from noon until sunset.
- By order of the President of the United States, or by the Governor of any State, territory or possession. On occasion, heads of several departments and agencies of the U.S. Government may direct the flag to half-staff if deemed proper to do so.
It should be displayed vertically, whether indoors or out, and suspended so that its folds fall free as though the flag were staffed. The stripes may be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, and the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right (that is, to the observer’s left). When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the flag should be displayed in the same way (that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street).
The State flag or any other flag or pennant in a display is lowered or removed when the flag is at half-staff. As indicated in the Flag Code, no flag or pennant should be placed above the flag of the United States.
In accordance with U.S. Code, Title 36, Chapter 1, the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation to display the flag at half-staff for the entire day.
No. The lowering of the flag is only authorized on Memorial Day, from sunrise until noon, and by executive order of the President, or State Governor. If it is so desired, the organizational flag may be lowered for this purpose.
No, only the President of the United States or the Governor of your State may order the flag to be half-staffed.
Those individuals and agencies that usurp authority and display the flag at half-staff on inappropriate occasions are quickly eroding the honor and reverence accorded this solemn act.
Even though the fifty-star flag is authorized, no law or provisions of the Flag Code prohibits the use or display of any previously authorized flag of the United States.
- United States flag (first mentioned in precedence in U.S. Flag Code)
- State flag (next in order of precedence per U.S. Flag Code)
- City / county / locality flag (next in order of precedence per U.S. Flag Code)
(following those mentioned above in the U.S. Flag Code are “pennants of societies”, aka flags of organizations or “organizational flags”. The U.S. Flag Code offers no specific hierarchy for precedence of display among any specific organizational flags)
- POW/MIA flag
- U.S. Army (organizational flag)
- U.S. Marine Corps (organizational flag)
- U.S. Navy (organizational flag)
- U.S. Air Force (organizational flag)
- U.S. Space Force (organizational flag)
- U.S. Coast Guard (organizational flag)
The custom of gun salutes began in the 14th century on the high seas with the salute by cannon. During that time, warships fired a seven-gun salute, probably selected for either its astrological or Biblical significance. Warships would also show their peaceful intentions when nearing a friendly port by disarming themselves (emptying their guns) and friendly shore batteries did the same. This then evolved from a meaningful gesture to a ritual salute, the shore batteries took to answering each gun of a warship with three shore salutes. Early British warships had seven guns to empty, when each was answered by three shore salutes that came to twenty-one.
By 1875, the twenty-one-gun salute was established as the international salute, with the United States adopting the practice on August 18, 1875.
The twenty-one gun salute is fired in honor of a national flag, the head of state of a foreign nation, a member of a royal family, and the president, ex-president, and/or president-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon on the day of the funeral of the president, ex-president, or president-elect of the United States.
Unfortunately, the Flag Code does not offer much in terms of clear and concise guidance. There are two schools of thought with regards to the display of a flag decal on an automobile.
First, when a person is walking forward with a staffed flag “aloft and free” the blue union would be forward. So one can argue that the blue field of the flag decal would face forward when placed on the side of the automobile. This is the preferred method.
However, the same methodology from reading Flag Code section 7(i) with regards to the display of the flag from a wall can also be applied, namely that the blue union would be in the upper left hand corner (observer’s).
Either display technically would be correct.
There are no provisions of the Flag Code which prohibit the sewing or repairing the flag. We do caution that if material is removed, the flag may no longer conform to the size proportions, as specified in Executive Order 10834.
While there is no legal or other authority for saying that any particular star in the blue union of the flag represents any particular state, many people feel it is natural and logical to consider, or assume that the first star represents the first state admitted into the Union (or rather, that ratified the Constitution) and that the last star represents the last State admitted. So from the upper left-hand corner, reading from left to right, top to bottom row would represent the various States in order of their admission into the Union.
Yes. There are no provisions of the Flag Code which prohibit such care. The decision to wash or dry-clean would be dependent on the material.
Since the Flag Code is Public Law, it may be changed by the passage of appropriate legislation in Congress, or, as provided in the law itself, by proclamation of the President.
According to custom and tradition, white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
The exact shades of blue and red are numbers 80075 and 80180 in the Standard Color Card of America published by the Color Association of the United States. In the Pantone system the colors are: Blue PMS 282 and Red PMS 193. The RGB numbers are: #002868 (blue) and #BF0A30 (red).
The Flag Code is silent with regards to the size flag that is appropriate for different sizes of flagpoles. The rule of thumb which has been passed down through tradition and custom is the fly of the flag should be approximately one-fourth the height of the pole.
The Flag Code is silent in regard to the makeup, size, and structure of the flagpole. The flagstaff topping ornaments are also not subject to any restrictions under the code. As with many of the traditions and customs associated with the display of the flag, the standard flagstaff topping ornaments in common use come from the assortment allowed by military regulations. These include the eagle, acorn, gilt lance, ball, gilt star (Navy), spear, or flat truck (Navy). Most commonly used and encountered is the eagle.
Records indicate that fringe was first used on the flag as early as 1835. It was not until 1895 that it was officially added to the national flag for all regiments of the Army. For civilian use, fringe is not required as an integral part of the flag, nor can its use be said to constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statute. It is considered that fringe is used as an honorable enrichment only. (Military tradition)
The courts have deemed without merit and frivolous, lawsuits that contend that the gold fringe adorning the flag conferred Admiralty/Maritime jurisdiction.
Yes, although this honor is usually reserved for veterans or highly regarded State and National figures, the Flag Code does not prohibit this use.
Unless an article of clothing is made from an actual United States flag, there is NO breach of flag etiquette whatsoever. People are simply expressing their patriotism and love of country by wearing an article of clothing that happens to be red, white, and blue with stars and stripes. There is nothing illegal about the wearing or use of these items.