The first official national flag of the U.S., Stars, and Stripes by name, was approved by the Continental Congress of June 14, 1777. While historians are not certain who designed it, they confidently know that the 13 stars on the flag represented the colonies from that period. Eventually, the stars would total 50 to signify each state in America. Most flags are inspirational and are associated with unity, respect, pride, and strength. In the U.S.A., the flag is synonymous with freedom and liberty. Historically, the flag has been carried into significant wartime battles to uphold such ideals. For the heroic sacrifices man has made and for what the flag represents, it is important to fly it proudly and follow flag etiquette.
The U.S. Flag Code that the National Flag Conference adopted in 1923 paved the way for future flag etiquette guidelines. It provided official instructions on how the flag should be respectfully handled and displayed. Here are some examples related to the time and occasions for flags to be displayed:
- The universal custom is 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 hours of darkness.
- The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
- The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
- The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on New Year’s Day, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday, Washington’s birthday, Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), Flag Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Constitution Day, Columbus Day, Navy Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Days proclaimed by the President of the United States, and State birthdays and holidays.
- The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.
- The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.
- The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.
Additional rules apply regarding the position and manner of display. Here are select excerpts:
- When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the flag should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag’s own right, or, if there is a line of flags, in front of the center of that line.
- When flags of States, cities or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the United States flag, 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 United States flag or to the United States’ flag’s right.
- 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 times of peace.
- When flown at half-staff, the flag 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.
- The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of a President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of a Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives…
- When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be placed so 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.
Examples of respect for the flag include:
- 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 flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
- The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
- The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
- The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally but always aloft and free.
- The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.
- The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.
- During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over their heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention.
- When it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, the flag should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
As we vow allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, as described in our national pledge, we seek “…one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. These words resonate with us and inspire us to be loyal, patriotic, freedom-loving, and fair citizens. The creation of standards for handling, using, and retiring our nation’s flag goes far beyond establishing guidelines and tradition. It summons us honor the American flag, which proudly exemplifies our national unity and sovereignty.
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