While researching for my ebook, 64 Easy Answers About Etiquette for the Modern Military Spouse, I read the US Flag Code for the first time. I discovered there’s a lot about the proper display of the American Flag that I didn’t know, and judging by other missteps I’ve seen, the same is true for a lot of Americans.
The US Flag Code is intended to be a set of codified guidelines for the proper display of the flag, but it doesn’t impose penalties for misuse. The code is worthwhile reading for all citizens. It’s available on the internet and Cornell University Law School maintains an online reference.
Today (June 14) is Flag Day, so I thought I’d present some highlights from the code. For example, the flag should only be displayed from sunrise to sunset. It can be displayed at night if there’s proper lighting. Immediately after 9/11, I displayed my flag at all hours, but I installed a flood light in the yard to illuminate it at night.
Likewise, you shouldn’t fly the flag in inclement weather unless it’s an all-weather flag. The weather is iffy today, so if it starts raining, I’ll take the flag inside. Leaving the flag out at all times leads to a faded, torn flag, like this.
When it gets this way, it’s no longer a fitting emblem for display and should be destroyed in a dignified manner. The American Legion or the local Boy Scout Troop can assist with the ceremonial burning.
“No flag or pennant should be placed above the flag of the United States.” One time we saw a Red Sox pennant flying above the flag on the same pole, in front of a church of all places. Big No-No.
Sometimes the flag is displayed vertically against a wall. If you do it this way, rather than on a staff, the union (the blue part with stars) should always be uppermost and to the observer’s left. If displayed in a window, the union should be in the upper left when viewed from the street. This may seem counter-intuitive, because if it’s horizontal, and you just rotate the flag ninety degrees so it’s vertical, then the union is in the upper right. However, this is incorrect, and a customer of mine at a book signing once politely pointed out to me that one of the flags on my table was displayed improperly. Thanks for the on-the-spot correction.
“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” It should go without saying, but it’s highly improper to drape yourself in the American flag. It still happens. Check out this cringe-worthy photo of Kid Rock during the Super Bowl half-time show. He cut a slit in the flag to make this poncho, then tossed it into the crowd during the show.
Those of us who are old enough remember this 1990 “Rock the Vote” announcement with Madonna in which she wrapped herself in the American Flag.
But what about a representation of the flag imprinted on textiles? Even this is considered disrespectful, which means Old Navy flag t-shirts, a man’s tie with flags on it, and the matching 4th of July outfits I made for my kids when they were toddlers violated the Code.
The only representation of the flag permissible to wear is a flag patch affixed to the uniform of military personnel, fire fighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations. “The lapel flag pin, being a replica, can be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”
The Flag Code prohibits the use of markings or advertisement on a flag or representation of the flag. When we get to this part of the code, things become really uncomfortable, because I see this done all the time, like at the gun shop in my town
and the Newport Dinner Train
The flag code is clear on this–”The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”
The flag can be displayed everyday, but the specific days the flag should be flown are:
New Year’s Day, January 1
Inauguration Day, January 20
Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
Easter Sunday (variable)
Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
Flag Day, June 14
Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
Independence Day, July 4
National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27
Labor Day, first Monday in September
Constitution Day, September 17
Columbus Day, second Monday in October
Navy Day, October 27
Veterans Day, November 11
Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day, December 25
Other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
The birthdays of States (date of admission)
For more information, see the US Flag Code available online. All passages in quotation marks were taken from USC: Title 4–Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the State.
Today is also the 237th Birthday of the United States Army. Happy Birthday! Take a look at the official messages on youtube.com.