American Flag Guidelines You Need to Know

You have no doubt been wondering, ever since 1923, exactly how the American flag ought to be displayed. That, of course, being the year that the government ratified the United States Flag Code, although at that time it was more or less merely a codification of the procedures and regulations that the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army had already been following.

The next year, as you recall, the National Flag Conference made some slight changes to the Code and called it good, leaving it to Congress to eventually draft a resolution recognizing the Code as Law. Which, you certainly recollect, they got around to doing in 1942.

You are probably nodding your head in mild consternation at this point since this is all old news to you and is not addressing your query regarding everyday treatment of the flag as a civilian. The Code is available for download or for purchase from the Government Publishing Office but it turns out that it is largely in legalese.

Publishing Office with Library of Encyclopedias

This is exactly why we’ve written up this entry—so that you have a reference for the stuff you actually need to know about the flag. If only you’d waited! Let’s get to it.

The most important thing to know about the U.S. Flag Code is that, technically as a civilian, you can’t violate it. Adhering to its edicts and pronouncements is entirely voluntary. Even if it weren’t, the Code has no enforcement provisos and no penalties, either. It leaves that sort of detail up to the individual states.

“But wait!” you say, “What about the Flag Protection Act, passed on October 28, 1989, which made it a criminal offense to desecrate, deface, mutilate, or step on the flag, carrying penalties of up to one year in prison and/or severe fines?” To which we raise an incredulous eyebrow and reply that that amendment to the statute in Title 18 was struck down by the Supreme Court in The United States vs. Eichman on June 11, 1990. So, again, no penalties and no enforcement for not following the Flag Code.

That said, it is a total jerk move to not follow the Flag Code to your best ability. The basic thing to keep in mind is respect. The flag is a symbol of the nation and a source of pride to its people.

  • When the flag is being either raised, or lowered, or passing in a parade, a citizen should stand at attention and salute.
  • Whether the flag is being displayed vertically or horizontally, the blue field should be at the top left for the observer.
  • The flag should not be displayed during inclement weather, nor at night unless illuminated.

It should otherwise be displayed on all days, especially:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Inauguration Day, January 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, 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
  • 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 other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
  • The birthdays of states (date of admission)
  • State holidays

Some more guidelines:

  • The flag ought not to touch the ground, water, or any such thing beneath it. It should never have anything placed on it.
  • The flag shouldn’t be carried flat but always aloft and free to fly.
  • The flag should not be used as apparel, decoration, or bedding; should not be printed on paper or other disposable items; should not be displayed on a ceiling.
  • The flag should never be dipped to any symbol or thing. When displayed with other flags, it should always be the highest and centermost, if possible.
  • When displayed at half-staff, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak, then immediately lowered to half-staff, then again when lowering it.
  • When used to drape a casket, the blue union field should be over the left shoulder.

Ultimately, the display of the flag comes down to some basic rules and common sense. Treat it with respect, and a few basic rules will see you the rest of the way.

American Flag in Sky

One thought on “American Flag Guidelines You Need to Know

  1. My dad was an IwoJima survivor, active in MCL after a number of years of not discussing anything, and expert witness in county court cases for years. I post the VFW flag etiquette multiple times a year and always finish with “if you can’t be bothered, use bunting”. Always include Flag Day proper retirement ceremony too, and the veteran groups who do the retirements. It makes me crazy to see even toy flags touch the ground, especially when supposedly a “tribute”. Then get bigger sticks and get them off the ground! Every election day I’m straightening flags before i can stand to go inside. Yeesh. The biggies were not touching the ground and lighting if not taken down before sunset. Never forget when was Brownie flag bearer for township Decoration Day,practiced arms,elbows up, had to be right. Halfway through ceremony was shaking&tears pouring down my face but that flag only vibrated with me. Then a big hand grabbed the bottom and daddy knelt by me for the duration. He winked once then we stared straight ahead like they taught me. But that big hand was a prayer answered. Momma had been wringing her hands&worrying, she could see the tears and knew I wouldn’t give up. My momma wore Army boots and snazzy pumps when she was a WAC in troop logistics at the Pentagon, even detailed to Eleanor Roosevelt a few times, almost fainted when entrusted with *the* fox stole. Bless their hearts. Gone but in mine every day. I’m a rebel and always have been, and I know how strongly my parents, uncles and cousins felt about what they fought for and against. Daddy’s parents were WWI refugee immigrants, and I fight for them and what they accomplished. I’m still fighting hate and cruelty, just my way. I was taught kindness, equality, caring and doing the best for the most, the greater good. I know my rights and fight for everyone’s rights. Momma and Daddy walked it. I refuse to lay down the “shield”, so to speak. They were great role models. And the flag is a special part of that. From Daddy seeing both flag raisings toward the end of 39 days on an atoll, the hand of support when I needed help and couldn’t ask, Momma teaching me how to fold a flag properly, and escorting them to DC for the Women In Military Service to America dedication, the 60th Reunion of Heroes for IwoJima survivors and families, and meeting very special people at various reunions. Can’t forget the USMC Birthday Balls! You, of all, would understand the Brownie flag bearer who couldn’t lower that flag. Thank you for allowing me to honor my parents.

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