The American flag is not just a colored piece of cloth. It is a symbol of our country. From its inception, to the Flag Act of 1777, the United States was creating a symbol that its men and women could rally around. Yet, until 1912, there was not a specific rule as to the size of the flag, its proportions, or the arrangement of the stars. This was changed by Executive Order on June 24, 1912. The current form of the United States flag with its 50 stars and 13 stripes was made official on July 4, 1960.
Since the American flag represents our country, it should be treated with the utmost respect. Countless men and women have given their lives in support of this flag. When you show respect to the flag, you honor them, as well.
Let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most common rules of flag courtesy.
1. The United States flag is to be the first flag raised and the last flag lowered. It should be displayed on its own flagstaff, but if another flag is to be flown on the same staff, the other flag must be smaller and flown underneath the American flag.
2. When being flown with other flags on separate staffs, the United States flag should be in the center and at the highest point.
3. The union (blue background with the stars) is always to be flown at the top unless the flag is being flown in distress.
4. The flag should always be flown at full-staff unless it is being flown at half-mast as part of a declared period of honor or mourning. When bringing a flag to half-mast, it should first be raised to the top of the staff, and then ceremoniously lowered. To bring the flag down, first raise it to full-mast, and then lower it with customary honor.
5. The American flag should always be flown away from obstacles and items that would obscure it. It is meant to fly free and should not be in danger of becoming entangled.
6. Only flags that have been specially constructed for outdoor use should be flown outside. A torn or tattered flag should not be displayed. On that same note, flags should not be flown in inclement weather unless they are designed for such use, and the American flag should not be flown at night unless it is illuminated.
7. During a parade, the American flag is to be to its own right or at the front and center of other flags also being presented. The American flag should never be “dipped,” but remain upright and flown with honor.
8. The flag should not touch the ground, floor, or goods that it is being flown near. If a flag is soiled, it may be hand-washed with warm water and color-safe soap. Lay it flat to dry, but ensure that it does not touch the ground or floor during this process.
9. When indoors, the flag should be displayed to the viewers’ left, to its own right on a stage or podium. All other flags should be to stage left, the viewers’ right. If being hung on the wall, it is to be centered behind the speaker. When on a wall or podium, it can be hung horizontally or vertically, but the union is always to be to the upper left as viewed by the audience.
10. When the flag is presented, all in attendance should stand at attention and either salute or place their right hand over their heart. The same honor should be given during the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of the National Anthem. Men should remove their hats.
11. The American flag should be folded and stored properly. To do so, it should be folded in half twice, and then triangle folded toward the union. When only the union is remaining, fold the union into a triangle and tuck it into the flag’s folds.
12. When the United States flag is no longer serviceable, it should be respectfully and ceremoniously burned. It is disrespectful to fly a tattered flag, and an American flag should never be thrown in the garbage. Most military organizations, including the VFW and American Legion, will help you dispose of your old flags.
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