Display Your Flag With Pride... The Right Way!
Most people wouldn't think of stepping out of the house with their shirt or pants on backwards. Why? Because it would be embarrassing... to say the least! Displaying the American flag without the proper respect reflects badly on both you and the flag. So save yourself embarrassment AND maybe a polite knock on the door from a helpful neighbor!
Of course... violating these rules is not a criminal offense and you will not be thrown in jail if you don't follow them!. Still, these simple acts show respect for the flag and country it represents. Take them no more lightly than you take your freedoms or the people who died for them.
Above all, our American flag is considered a living thing, reflecting the growth and changes our country has undergone from its beginning to today. Remember this and you will understand the reverence so many Americans have for this glorious flag of freedom.
This article has two parts. The first, Basic Flag Display, covers the basics of display at your home. The second part, The US Code, features more detailed information about flag display customs taken directly from Title 4 of the US Code as published by the US House of Representatives.
Basic Flag Display...
You may display your flag from a pole, a rope or a wire, or attached to a vertical surface such as a wall. The union... the blue field with stars representing the states... must be on the top. The flag should not be used as an ornament or a cover over any object except, under certain circumstances, a coffin.
Believe it or not, hanging a flag upside down is permissible... but only as a distress signal! HELP!!
If you hang the flag on a wall instead of a pole, the union must be shown on the left as viewed by passers-by. If you hang a two-sided flag from a window, the union should be positioned on the left as viewed from the outside. This is typically described as having the union "on the flag's own right side".
The US Flag must always take a position of prominence when displayed with a pennant or flag of any city, state or organization. In peacetime, the flag of another country may be flown at the same height as the US Flag, but it must be on a separate pole. In all cases, the US Flag should be raised first and lowered last.
When to hang your flag... and when not to!
It is customary to display the flag at sunrise and take it down at sunset. However, the code indicates that a flag may be flown 24 hours a day for "patriotic reasons". You are open to define "patriotic" and "reasons", since they are not defined in the code. Since a hung flag should be visible at all times, it is noted that a flag flying after dark should be illuminated.
Cloth or delicate flags should be taken down during inclement weather, but this rule is waived if the flag is an "outdoor" flag made of weather-resistant materials.
When should the flag be flown at half-staff?
Flying a flag at half-staff is not to be taken lightly or done without official authority. According to the code, only POTUS (the President of the United States) has the authority to order the flag to be lowered. However, on occasion governors order the lowering of both the American and their state flags for appropriate local concerns. As far as I know, no lawsuit has been raised against any governor inappropriately lowering the flag. Governors should use discretion, restraint and caution when ordering half-staff, lest they be considered to be using the flag for political or personal purposes.
The only two Federal holidays that require lowering of the flag are Memorial Day and Peace Officer's Memorial Day.
Special circumstances that require the lowering of the flag are the deaths of certain state and federal government and court officials. The complete list in Sec. 7(m) of the US Code (below).
(NOTE: I originally used the term "half-mast" instead of "half-staff" in the above paragraphs. A reader, Frank B. ,brought it to my attention that the accepted term is "half-staff". I did a little research and found that, though the US officially uses the term "half-staff:", many dictionaries use "half-mast" and "half-staff" interchangeably. For consistency, I decided to change my usage to "half-staff" to conform with the US Code.)
When and how to retire your flag...
After many years of service, a flag can become quite tattered and need replacement. Out of respect, an American flag should never be thrown away. Instead, it is "retired" in a ceremony which ends with the burning of the flag (or group of flags). There are many organizations that offer flag retirement services, such as the Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
Flag Day (June 14th) is a popular day to conduct this ceremony. Hundreds of flags can be retired simultaneously, but only one flag is used during the actual ceremony.
THE US CODE on the Proper Display of the American Flag
The following information is reproduced from the US Code, Title 4. We have culled the most relevant sections concerning the flag and related patriotic customs. Some sections are long and difficult to read, but the run-on sentences are a hoot! They should hire our editor to clean things up! The US Code is freely available from the US House of Representatives website.
Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who, within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any purpose, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words ''flag, standard, colors, or ensign'', as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, ''I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'', should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.
(a) It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to
sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs 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 flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be
either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a
line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.
(b) The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
(c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.
(d) The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag's own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag's right.
(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
(h) When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting
horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a
building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless
the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a
(i) 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.
(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
(k) 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. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.
(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for
an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again
raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag
should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the
staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the
death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a
State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the
event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be
displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance
with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of
the death of a present or former official of the government of any State,
territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State,
territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at
half-staff. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the
President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice
President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or
the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until
interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an
executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day
for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace
Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection -
(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer's left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance, the flag should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north, when entrances are to the east and west or to the east when entrances are to the north and south. If there are entrances in more than two directions, the union should be to the east.
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional
During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present
except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform
should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should
Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America, set forth herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with respect thereto may be prescribed, by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, whenever he deems it to be appropriate or desirable; and any such alteration or additional rule shall be set forth in a proclamation.
Note: The crime of flag desecration is considered a misdemeanor in most states. Illinois considers it a felony to desecrate the flag, but an experienced Cincinnati criminal defense attorney would probably be able get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor.