How to Treat an American Flag

american-flags-for-sale-online1

The American flag is one of the United States’ most significant and powerful patriotic symbols. We have so many stuff for it such as our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by a lawyer named Francis Scott Key who witnessed the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 while a prisoner on a British ship in Baltimore Harbor. Of course, even though the flag has been around since the American Revolution but contrary to what you might’ve learned in school, it was definitely not designed by a woman named Betsy Ross (that was just some bullshit story made up by her grandson). It was more likely designed by Continental Congress delegate and signer of the Declaration of Independence Francis Hopkinson (and even his claim has holes in it but at least his involvement with the design is supported by evidence). Yet, there are also stories relating to other individuals as well. But as to whoever sewn the first American flag, it could be any flag maker in Philadelphia. Over the years, it has gone through many renditions, there wasn’t a lot of rules that pertained to the stars and stripes at first save perhaps that it should include 13 red and white stripes as well as a blue square at the top left corner that consisted of a number of stars that depicted the number of states at the time. However, until 1912, there was no pattern to how the stars should be displayed. And if you go to an American Civil War museum, then you’d find a lot of interesting patterns.

One of the many designs you might see of a Union flag in an American Civil War museum. The star configuration on the flag wouldn't be established until 1912.

One of the many designs you might see of a Union flag in an American Civil War museum. The star configuration on the flag wouldn’t be established until 1912.

Despite that the Stars and Stripes was adopted in 1777, it wasn’t until 146 years later when there was a serious attempt to establish a uniform code of etiquette for the US flag. On February 15, 1923, the War Department issued the US Flag Code which was adopted almost in their entirety on June 14 of that year by a conference of 68 patriotic organizations in Washington D.C. However, the US Flag Code didn’t become official law until years later. Now military branches have their own codes for the American Flag. This is for civilians.

If something has the likeness of an American flag to an observer, then it should be seen as an American flag. Since this house is painted as an American flag, it's basically disrespect.

If something has the likeness of an American flag to an observer, then it should be seen as an American flag. Since this house is painted as an American flag, it’s basically disrespect.

“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.” –Introduction to the US Flag Code Ch. 1 Title 4.

When to Display the Flag

The flag should be displayed at all times on a pole at public buildings, legal holidays, and other occasions.

The flag should be displayed at all times on a pole at public buildings, legal holidays, and other occasions. On all days, it’s usually hoisted on flagstaffs from sunrise to sunset.

On all days, especially on legal holidays and other special occasions.

It's always customary for classrooms to stand up and recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" every morning. But even though I love my country, saying the Pledge was kind of a pain in the ass for me. Nevertheless, Francis Bellamy had a way to salute the flag during the pledge but it was discontinued in the 1940s for bearing too much similarities to the Hitler salute (yes, really).

It’s always customary for classrooms to stand up and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” every morning. But even though I love my country, saying the Pledge was kind of a pain in the ass for me. Nevertheless, Francis Bellamy had a way to salute the flag during the pledge but it was discontinued in the 1940s for bearing too much similarities to the Hitler salute (yes, really).

On official buildings when in use, in or near polling places on election days, and in or near schools when in session.

Customary between sunrise and sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open.

Citizens may fly it at any time.

The American flag flies continuously at the US Marine War Memorial in Washington D. C. which depicts the statue of the soldiers in the Iwo Jima flag raising photo, which was staged as said in Flags of Our Fathers. What happened to the men in it is pretty sad.

The American flag flies continuously at the US Marine War Memorial in Washington D. C. which depicts the statue of the soldiers in the Iwo Jima flag raising photo, which was staged as said in Flags of Our Fathers. What happened to the men in it is pretty sad.

May be displayed at night, on special occasions, preferably lighted.

Flies at the White House and the East and West fronts as well as the dome of the US Capitol at all times and at the US House and Senate while in session. Other places it flies continuously at: US customs and ports of entry, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine as well as Flag House Square in Baltimore, the Francis Scott Key Home, the Marine Corps War Memorial (Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima), Battle Green at Lexington, Massachusetts, the South Pole, the Moon, Valley Forge, and other places by custom.

50 flags are continuously displayed at the Washington Monument.

A Civil War era flag flies continuously at Pennsylvania Hall at Gettysburg College.

Small flags usually fly at all times on graves of those who’ve served in the US military.

Flying the Flag at Half-Staff

To fly a flag at half staff is a sign of a nation in mourning. This is usually done upon deaths of high elected official, days of remembrance, and upon presidential proclamation.

To fly a flag at half staff is a sign of a nation in mourning. This is usually done upon deaths of high elected official, days of remembrance, and upon presidential proclamation.

Signal of mourning.

Should be hoisted to the peak before being lowered to half-staff.

Durations:

  • By presidential proclamation.
  • 30 days from the day of death for a sitting or former president.
  • 10 days from the day of death for a current Vice President, current/retired Chief Supreme Court Justice, and Speaker of the House.
  • Day of death to day to burial for associate Supreme Court Justice, cabinet member, former Vice President, Senate president pro tempore, and House and Senate majority and minority leaders.
  • Day of death to following day in DC and day of death to burial in decedent’s constituency for US senator, representative, territorial delegate, and residential commissioner for Puerto Rico.
  • Day of death to burial in the decedent’s constituency for governor.
  • On Memorial Day until noon and then raised at peak.
  • On Korean War Veterans Armistice Day (July 27), National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7), and Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15).

How to Fly the Flag

This picture illustrates how you should fly the United States flag. And believe me, the US flag code thinks of everything.

This picture illustrates how you should fly the United States flag. And believe me, the US flag code thinks of everything.

Should be hoisted briskly and ceremoniously.

Should never touch the ground or floor.

When hung over a sidewalk, union side should be away from the building.

When hung over the center of a street, union side should be to the north in an east-west street and to the east in a north-south street.

Must not fly any flag above it or to the right if flown at the same level, except at the United Nations Headquarters and only the UN flag for the former and the member states for the latter.

When 2 flags are placed against a wall with crossed staffs, it should be at right and in front of the staff of the other flag.

When a number of flags are grouped and displayed on staffs, it should be at the center and highest point of the group.

When displayed on a private estate, it shouldn’t be hung (unless at half-staff or when an all weather flag is displayed) during rain or violent weather.

Church and Platform Use

In an auditorium, must be displayed flat, above, and behind the speaker.

When displayed on a staff at church or in a public auditorium, it must hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in a position of honor on the speaker’s right while he or she faces the audience. Other flags should be placed on the left facing the audience.

When it is displayed at the floor of a church or public auditorium, it should be placed on the speaker’s left.

While it may seem like a US Flag Code violation, it's actually not since this photo was taken behind the scenes. The code calls the stars to be at the observer's left and will certainly look like this to the audience. Thus, this is correct.

While it may seem like a US Flag Code violation, it’s actually not since this photo was taken behind the scenes. The code calls the stars to be at the observer’s left and will certainly look like this to the audience. Thus, this is correct.

When displayed horizontally or vertically against the wall or hung, the stars should be uppermost and at the observer’s left.

The only acceptable time when an American flag can be draped is on a coffin during a funeral for a serviceman, public official of high standing, or first responders, especially if killed in the line of duty.

The only acceptable time when an American flag can be draped is on a coffin during a funeral for a serviceman, public official of high standing, or first responders, especially if killed in the line of duty. However, it should be removed and folded before being presented to the next of kin.

When covering a casket, it should be placed so that the union (star side) is at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave or touch the ground.

Ways to display it on a casket:

  • Closed Casket: When the flag is used to drape a closed casket, it should be so placed that the union (blue field) is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. It may be said that the flag is embracing the deceased who in life has served the flag.
  • Half Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a half-couch casket, it should be placed three layers to cover the closed half of the casket in such a manner that the blue field will be the top fold, next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased’s left.
  • Full Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a full-couch casket, it should be folded in a triangular shape and placed in the center part of the head panel of the casket cap, just above the left shoulder of the deceased. (ushistory.org)

Maintaining the Flag

Look, I understand you want a picture of your cat for Facebook patriotic kitten photo contest. But still, American flags shouldn't be on the ground nor be placed in a jumbled up mess.

Look, I understand you want a picture of your cat for Facebook patriotic kitten photo contest. But still, American flags shouldn’t be on the ground nor be placed in a jumbled up mess.

When lowered, it should never touch the ground, water, or other object as well as received in waiting hands. It should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

Of course, I can attach much political symbols on this picture during the 5th anniversary of 9/11. But even Mr. and Mrs. Bush should know better than to step and wipe their feet on the stars and stripes.

Of course, I can attach much political symbols on this picture during the 5th anniversary of 9/11. But even Mr. and Mrs. Bush should know better than to step and wipe their feet on the stars and stripes.

It should never be stepped on.

Gee, Beatles, this picture of the American flag seems all right with the union at the observer's left, but it's hung a little too low since the Fab Four are basically stepping on it. Then again, I'll just let them off this one since they're fantastic and British.

Gee, Beatles, this picture of the American flag seems all right with the union at the observer’s left, but it’s hung a little too low since the Fab Four are basically stepping on it. Then again, I’ll just let them off this one since they’re fantastic and British. Also, they probably weren’t consulted.

It should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

The flag should be ceremoniously folded like this:

And here's a step-by-step graphic to show you. As my experience with folding an American flag at West Overton, you need at least one other person to do this. Seriously, you see this flag folding at military funerals.

And here’s a step-by-step graphic to show you. As my experience with folding an American flag at West Overton, you need at least a few people to do this. Seriously, you see this flag folding at military funerals.

1. Begin by holding it waist-high with another person so that its surface is parallel to the ground.
2. Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars, holding the bottom and top edges securely.
3. Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.
4. Make a rectangular fold then a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open top edge of the flag, starting the fold from the left side over to the right.
5. Turn the outer end point inward, parallel to the open edge, to form a second triangle.
6. The triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in this manner (usually thirteen triangular folds, as shown at right). On the final fold, any remnant that does not neatly fold into a triangle (or in the case of exactly even folds, the last triangle) is tucked into the previous fold.
7. When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible.

How to Dispose of a Worn Flag

If you have an American flag that's worn out and torn to shreds, you can dispose it right in bins like these from organizations like the Boy Scouts, American Legion, VFW, the military, or others.

If you have an American flag that’s worn out and torn to shreds, you can dispose it right in bins like these from organizations like the Boy Scouts, American Legion, VFW, the military, or others.

When the flag is in a condition that makes it no longer an emblem for display, it must be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably burning. If you can’t do it yourself remember that you can always contact your local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, the military or other organizations that conduct dignified flag burning and retirement ceremonies.

As your flag deteriorates, you might want to think about disposing it in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. There's a lot of organizations that take tattered flags and retire them.

As your flag deteriorates, you might want to think about disposing it in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. There’s a lot of organizations that take tattered flags and retire them.

However, if it’s made from polyester or nylon, it’s best if you have it recycled due to hazardous gases being produced while it’s being burned.

Nevertheless, if you find a damaged flag say from an era prior to 1912, you might want to have preserved in a museum immediately.

When to Salute the Flag

Unless you're a member of the band playing the National Anthem or recitation of the "Pledge of Allegiance," it's always customary to salute the flag. Servicemen do the military salute while civilians place their right hands on their hearts.

Unless you’re a member of the band playing the National Anthem or recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance,” it’s always customary to salute the flag. Servicemen do the military salute while civilians place their right hands on their hearts.

All should face the flag, stand at attention and salute on these occasions:

1. When the flag is passing in a parade or review
2. During the ceremony of hoisting and lowering
3. While the national anthem is played
4. During the Pledge of Allegiance

During these occasions, those in uniform should render military style. Civilians should place the right hand over their heart. Men wearing hats should remove them and old it on their left shoulders during the salute.

Prohibited Uses of the Flag

Sure we may remember Janet Jackson exposing her boob at the Super Bowl in 2004. But I also remember seeing Kid Rock wearing an American flag and clutching his crotch in one of the most disrespectful ways to treat the Stars and Stripes.

Sure we may remember Janet Jackson exposing her boob at the Super Bowl in 2004. But I also remember seeing Kid Rock wearing an American flag and clutching his crotch in one of the most disrespectful ways to treat the Stars and Stripes.

Don’t dip the flag into any person or thing (except if it’s a customary ship salute).

Now this soldier has his flag upside down to say our nation is in distress over the killing of innocents in the Middle East, which is fine. However, the writing on the flag is actually more disrespectful.

Now this soldier has his flag upside down to say our nation is in distress over the killing of innocents in the Middle East, which is fine. However, the writing on the flag is actually more disrespectful.

Don’t display the flag with the union side down except as a distress signal.

It's always a tradition in pro football games to display the American flag on the field. However, it's also a violation of the US Flag Code done in the name of patriotism. Then again, it looks good for the cameras.

It’s always a tradition in pro football games to display the American flag on the field. However, it’s also a violation of the US Flag Code done in the name of patriotism. Then again, it looks good for the cameras.

Don’t carry the flag horizontally or flat, but always aloft and free.

For God's sake, this is a patriotic national symbol, not a boat cover. Show a little respect for our country, you asshole!

For God’s sake, this is a patriotic national symbol, not a boat cover. Show a little respect for our country, you asshole!

Don’t display it on a float, automobile, train or a boat except from a staff.

Apparently somebody at the Homes and Gardens channel thought an American flag would make the perfect patriotic table spread. What it really is unpatriotic disrespect.

Apparently somebody at the Homes and Gardens channel thought an American flag would make the perfect patriotic table spread. What it really is unpatriotic disrespect.

Don’t place anything on it.

Sure this may be a heartwarming photo of patriotic cuteness. But the US flag code states you shouldn't let it touch the ground or put anything on it. Babies included.

Sure this may be a heartwarming photo of patriotic cuteness. But the US flag code states you shouldn’t let it touch the ground or put anything on it. Babies included.

Don’t use it as a ceiling covering.

Now while I see nothing wrong with honoring 9/11 victims, writing their names on this flag of honor is kind of disrespectful to the American flag according to the code. No disrespect, please.

Now while I see nothing wrong with honoring 9/11 victims, writing their names on this flag of honor is kind of disrespectful to the American flag according to the code. No disrespect, please.

Don’t place any word, design, insignia, number, letter, mark, picture, or drawing on it (meaning you don’t write anything on it or use it for any design).

For a Vice Presidential candidate known for her extremely hateful conservative comments and love for traditional American values, Sarah Palin sure doesn't have any qualms about desecrating the American flag with her autograph.

For a Vice Presidential candidate known for her extremely hateful conservative comments and love for traditional American values, Sarah Palin sure doesn’t have any qualms about desecrating a sacred national symbol with her autograph.

Don’t use it as a receptacle for carrying or delivering anything.

Sure this may seem like the kind of patriotic photo op that might leave some Americans in stitches. But the Flag code specifically states that the stars and stripes shouldn't be used as a receptacle for anything.

Sure this may seem like the kind of patriotic photo op that might leave some Americans in stitches. But the Flag code specifically states that the stars and stripes shouldn’t be used as a receptacle for anything.

Don’t use it as a cover for a statue or monument.

Sure using an American flag for advertising violates the US flag code. But name a company that doesn't do this around the 4th of July. Seriously, every car dealership and beer distributor does this all the time.

Sure using an American flag for advertising violates the US flag code. But name a company that doesn’t do this around the 4th of July. Seriously, every car dealership and beer distributor does this all the time.

Don’t use it for advertising or put an advertising sign attached to the staff or halyard.

Yes, the 4th of July is a time for patriotic party supplies. But this is possibly very disrespectful to the Stars and Stripes as the Flag Code demonstrates. You might want to go with Captain America instead.

Yes, the 4th of July is a time for patriotic party supplies. But this is possibly very disrespectful to the Stars and Stripes as the Flag Code demonstrates. You might want to go with Captain America instead.

Don’t impress, print, paint, or embroider it on articles boxes, napkins, or anything designed for temporary use and discard as well as stuff like handkerchiefs and cushions.

Okay, now I know Americans love their pets and like to use them in patriotic photo ops. However, it's best you don't put an American flag where it can incur soiling and damage such as in a dog's mouth.

Okay, now I know Americans love their pets and like to use them in patriotic photo ops. However, it’s best you don’t put an American flag where it can incur soiling and damage such as in a dog’s mouth.

Don’t fasten, store, display, or use it in a manner that could leave it easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

Sure this may be a sexy patriotic photo op. But it basically goes against the US flag code to wear an American flag so it's basically desecration.

Sure this may be a sexy patriotic photo op. But it basically goes against the US flag code to wear an American flag so it’s basically desecration.

Don’t use it as part of a costume or athletic uniform except if it’s a flag patch on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, astronauts, and members of patriotic organizations (and only as designated by that organization). However, if you should wear a flag lapel, it should be pinned near the heart.

Hmm, Mrs. Palin, I know you love America and you want to take a photo to show it. But you know you're disrespecting the US flag by basically draping it on a chair. And she's among the same people who attack Obama for not wearing a lapel pin.

Hmm, Mrs. Palin, I know you love America and you want to take a photo to show it. But you know you’re disrespecting the US flag by basically draping it on a chair. And she’s among the same people who attack Obama for not wearing a lapel pin.

Don’t use it as drapery, bedding, apparel, or decoration of any sort (save a casket during funerals for servicemen, first responders, and high public officials as long as it’s taken off and ceremonially folded). If you want patriotic decoration and drapery for a speaker’s desk, go with a patriotic bunting instead with the blue above and white in the middle.

Want a patriotic decoration you can use for a podium or platform but don't want to desecrate the American flag? Use this bunting, goddammit! You can find them at any craft store.

Want a patriotic decoration you can use for a podium or platform but don’t want to desecrate the American flag? Use this bunting, goddammit! You can find them at any craft store.

Don’t festoon, draw back, up, bunched up, or in folds, but always allowed to fall free.

When it comes to flag desecration, this is perhaps the only way to disrespect the stars and strips that will get people wanting to put you in jail.

When it comes to flag desecration, this is perhaps the only way to disrespect the stars and stripes that will get people wanting to put you in jail.

As of now, there are no penalties for desecrating an American Flag though there have been suggestions with one law from 1968 saying that it could lead to a $1,000 fine or a year’s imprisonment. Nevertheless, as you’ve seen in the media, many Americans frequently violate these rules in the US Flag Code even though it’s usually those who burn the flag at protest rallies who usually receive the most criticism and calls for prosecution. Advertisers, athletic owners, and clothing designers, not so much but you see the flag’s image desecrated like this all the time in these ways. And sometimes having the flag used in this way is seen as promoting patriotism (even though the people who do this either don’t realize what they’re doing or really don’t care). And here the political spectrum doesn’t matter since shows of flag desecration are basically an American tradition at this point, even when played not to be. Even the US government does this as well since flags are a frequent image on postage stamps. Thus, to call anyone unpatriotic for disrespecting the flag is just stupid since it’s something we basically all do at one time or another.

Even the US government isn't above disrespecting the American flag in which it issues postage stamps in its likeness. However, as Americans, we tend to allow this.

Even the US government isn’t above disrespecting the American flag in which it issues postage stamps in its likeness. However, as Americans, we tend to allow this.

For more:

USFlag.org: http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html

FAQ on the flag: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/faq.htm

Advertisements

4 responses to “How to Treat an American Flag

  1. I had no idea that the U.S. Flag Code is so detailed and strict. We are all being unintentionally disrespectful to the Flag. How about how often the Flag is at Half-staff? According this code, it is done only for very specific situations. Interesting stuff.

  2. This was a fantastic article! I am a retired Marine and this subject is one of my biggest pet peeves. The biggest is the display of the flag horizontally or flat. As you mentioned, it’s done at football games all the time. It really bothers me when it’s done at supposedly ‘patriotic’ games like the Army/Navy game which is often presided over by the president or other dignitary. They should all know better! Thank you for this!

  3. Pingback: 2016 US presidential election: take the ISideWith quiz | Churchmouse Campanologist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s