Flags are everywhere! Since the horrifying and tragic events of September 11, Americans have come out in droves to display the U.S. Flag. We see Old Glory in front of homes, in meeting places and churches, on shop fronts, lapel pins, and bumper stickers, hanging from overpasses, and attached to vehicles in all sorts of ways. With this sudden resurgence of patriotic display, we need to be mindful of flag protocol, and remember to display our national banner in a way that shows reverence and respect. After all, the U.S. Flag is a spiritual symbol of our values, aspirations, ideals, and history as a people united in the cause of liberty and democracy.
The protocol or etiquette for the handling and display of the U.S. Flag is established by law, in U.S. Code; Title 36, U.S.C., Chapter 10. Here are some of the main things you should know if you display the flag on private property, in meetings, or at your place of business or worship.
Respecting Our Flag
First, except for flags displayed for historical purposes, the U.S. Flag you display should be current. It should be in good condition, not torn, stained, or tattered. Flags can be mended or laundered, but one in really bad shape should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. If your flag is in reasonably good shape, but you want a new one, you can donate the old one to a community organization or youth group. In military and government agencies, flags are often given to outgoing personnel as a memento.
It is customary to fly the U.S. Flag from sunrise to sunset. It can be displayed 24 hours a day, if it is illuminated at night. If other flags are flown on separate staffs, the U.S. Flag is hoisted first, and lowered last.
Mutilating, defacing, or defiling the U.S. Flag is any way is against the laws of this country. It is grounds for fine and imprisonment. Here are some other Flag do's and don'ts:
- Never display the U.S. Flag upside down.
- The Flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
- 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.
- When the Flag is suspended above a corridor or lobby, the union should be on the left, when observed from the main entry point.
- The flag should never have any other words, emblems, pictures, or insignia placed on it.
- The Flag should not be used for napkins, boxes, or anything that will be used temporarily and then discarded.
- The Flag should not be used as part of an athletic uniform.
- Flag lapel pins should be worn on the left, near the heart.
- When the Flag is displayed on a vehicle, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
- The Flag should never be used for advertising purposes.
When to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff
Do what the government does. The federal government flies the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day. By order of the President, the Flag flies at half-staff, usually for a day, upon the death of prominent citizens or public officials.
Placement at Formal Gatherings and Meetings
When placed at or near a speaker's podium, the U.S. flag should receive the place of superior prominence to the speaker's right as he/she faces the audience. Any other flags should be to the speaker's left or to the right of the audience. There are some complicated exceptions, below.
If the Flag is not on the Podium, it should be placed to the right of the audience, with any other flags to the left.
If the Flag is placed on a wall, with another flag and with crossed staffs, the U.S. Flag should always be in front of the other flag.
The positioning of flag display is sometimes arbitrary and based primarily on the best location for the event. This could be directly behind the speaker, to the (observer's) left of the speaker, or centered on the stage. When positioning flags consider position of honor, traffic flow, obstruction of audiovisual equipment, and getting flags into the background for photographs, and practicality.
When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
Order of Precedence
In this country, the U.S. Flag has a place of honor over all other flags; the only exception being the flag of the United Nations at the UN Headquarters in New York. Here are some general rules to ensure a position of prominence for our Flag.
- When the U.S. Flag is displayed with other flags flying from separate staffs and grouped around a central point, the U.S. Flag is at the center and at the highest point of the grouping.
- When flags are displayed in a line, the U.S. Flag is always to the extreme right, with all other flags to the left.
- On a staff, the U.S. Flag always sits atop those flags of states, cities, or localities.
- When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace. The flags should be of approximately equal size.
At official gatherings, the U.S. flag is displayed to the left of the audience, or at the highest point of a grouping, followed by any other flags in this order:
- Flags of other nations represented in alphabetical order
- The home state flag, followed by flags of other states, in order of admission to the Union
- County and City flags, in alphabetical order.
At military events, the U.S. Flag is always in a position of prominence, followed by other flags in this order:
- Flags of other nations represented in alphabetical order
- State flags, in order of admission to the Union
- Service flags in this order: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard
- Followed by flags of individual federal offices, such as President of the U.S., Vice President, Secretary of State, etc., in order of rank.
If your organization or business hosts meetings or ceremonies with government, state, military or local officials, consult the protocol offices for those organizations for proper flag placement.
The U.S. Flag should always be larger than or of equal size to other flags on display. The U.S. Flag should never be placed in a lower position to any other flag, nor should it ever be "dipped" in deference to any other flag.
Old Glory represents a living country and is considered by law to be a living entity. She belongs to all of us. For more information about flag etiquette, consult the U.S. Code at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/36/ch10.html, or visit http://suvcw.org/flag.htm