With Memorial Weekend coming up soon, we hope you find this short summary of the Flag Code helpful. We recommend reading the entire summary through once, just so you make sure you see everything. We included excerpts written by REBECCA DECZYNSKI AND CAROLINE PICARD for their article in GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, May 11, 2020.
Flying the American Flag is an honorable act to show your love for the greatest country in the world! Old Glory is a national symbol demanding respect and dignity, in the same way our active and former service members and their families receive our respect, especially those who have suffered or sacrificed in ways we can only imagine. To keep your patriotic act as respectful and honorable as you mean for it to be, learn the rules for flying the flag, which were established by Congress in 1942 as the Flag Code. In addition to providing the proper flag flying rules, the Flag Code recommends the days to display the flag, such as Independence Day, Flag Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day has it’s own special flag etiquette, which requires you to fly the American flag at half-mast from sunrise until noon, then raise it to full mast for the rest of the holiday.
1) There’s a right and a wrong way to hang the flag vertically.
Never dip the flag to any person or anything. Don’t hang your flag backwards, upside down, or in another inappropriate fashion. If you’re hanging your flag vertically (like from a window or against a wall), the Union portion with the stars should go on the observer’s left.
2) Avoid letting the flag touch the ground.
Prevent your flag from touching the ground, floor, or water. It’s not necessary to dispose of your flag if it accidentally hits the pavement, but you should make sure that it’s in good condition before displaying it again.
3) Know when to Fly a flag at night.
Customarily, you display flags only from sunrise to sunset, but you can fly Old glory for 24 hours a day if you properly illuminate her during the hours of darkness.
4) Know the difference between half-staff and half-mast.
There is a difference between the terms “half-staff” and “half-mast”, even if, those terms are commonly used interchangeably. “Half-mast” technically refers to a flag flown on a ship’s mast, while “half-staff” describes flags flown on land.
5) Fly your flag on half-staff at the right times.
Fly your flag at half-staff when the nation is in mourning, after the death of a government official, as a remembrance on a special day, or from sunrise to noon on Memorial Day. When flying the flag at half-staff, first hoist it to the peak for an instant and then lower to the half-staff position. Flying the flag at “half-staff” means it is flown one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the flagpole. Raise the flag again to the peak of the staff before you lower it for the day.
6) Don’t fly the flag when it rains.
If the forecast calls for inclement weather, you’re not supposed to display the flag, unless you are displaying an all-weather flag. The American Legion reports most flags nowadays are made of all-weather, non-absorbent materials like nylon, so this rule is not as steadfast as it used to be.
7) Always fly the American flag above other flags.
Old Glory flies above all other flags. That includes state and city flags. If they have to be at the same level (i.e., you’re hanging them vertically from a house or porch), put the American flag on the left. Always hoist the American flag first and lower it last.
8) Only fly a flag in good condition.
No matter how well you take care of Old Glory, sometimes age just wears down a flag. It is easier to care for newer flags because the newer synthetic materials allows you to wash them in cold water with a mild detergent then air dry them easily. You have to treat older more fragile flags with more care, hand washing them in Woolite or a similar product. Older flags get rips or tears in them easier, which can be mended and so the flag can be flown again as long as the mends aren’t overly visible. Flags that are overly worn, torn, or faded should be properly disposed of.
9) Dispose of an old flag in a respectful manner.
You should burn an unserviceable flag in a discreet, respectful, ceremonial manner, when it is ripped, torn or otherwise doesn’t work. If it is illegal to burn synthetic materials in your state or you feel uncomfortable doing so, contact your local American Legion post to find out if they have flag disposal ceremonies, which commonly occur on Flag Day, June 14. Local Scout troops are another resource for disposing your retired flag in a dignified and respectful way.
10) This one stings a little…Skip clothing and objects with flags on them.
While this section of the U.S. Flag Code is rarely observed, the guidelines advise against using the flag on clothing, costumes, athletic uniforms, bedding, cushions, handkerchiefs, other décor, and temporary-use items like paper napkins and boxes. It does permit flag pins worn over the left lapel and flags on military and first responder uniforms.
However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 in the case Texas v. Johnson that the government can’t enforce flag-protection laws, so you won’t get arrested for wearing an American flag T-shirt. Do whatever feels most respectful and appropriate to you.
11) Properly fold the American flag for storage.
The American flag is traditionally folded in a specific arrangement, but we guarantee it’s easier than folding a fitted sheet. When you have to store your flag, grab another person to help you. Begin by holding it parallel to the ground with another person on the other end. Make sure to make each fold crisp and straight. Fold the lower, striped section of the flag over the blue section. Fold over the folded bottom edge to meet the top edge. Begin a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to the top edge. Turn the outer point inward, parallel with the top edge to form a second triangle. Continue until the final folds show only the blue and white stars with the edges all folded in in a triangle shape.
12) Avoid these common flag mistakes, too.
Besides wearing flag-covered clothing, there are a couple other Flag Code violations that you can easily avoid. Old Glory should never touch anything beneath it while it’s flying. It should never be used as covering for a ceiling. You should never place anything on the flag (like a “mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature”).