Flag Etiquette: Respect and Protocol

382px-US_Flag_Day_poster_1917As celebrate the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence drawing us into a sea of PMS 282 and PMS 193, there is perhaps no greater unity symbol for American citizens than our deep respect for the United States Flag and what it represents. There still remains some U.S. flag etiquette when displaying and honoring what it stands for, but flag protocol is not always followed.

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem about its strength as he watched the attack on Fort McHenry by the British. It would become our National Anthem:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there. O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The Fourth of July celebrates our independence and I can’t help but think about the many men and women who died securing that for America more than two centuries ago. Our Flag is present at celebrations and at somber events. It waves over the home of the brave and is draped over the coffins of those who have given their lives in the name of freedom.

Our flag is a symbol of all that is good about our country. Today, it’s worth remembering the Standards of Respect afforded as laid out in a joint resolution dated June 22, 1942. Below is a portion of that resolution as provided on that date. Several of these have been amended since, most notably where the flag can be displayed ie. printed on paper, handkerchiefs, clothing, etc.

Here’s what Congress advised for the use of the U.S. flag in a joint resolution dated June 22, 1942. (via The Old Farmer’s Almanac):

  • The flag of the United States is the emblem of our identity as a separate nation, which the United States of America has been for more than 200 years. Therefore, citizens should stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered.
  • The custom is to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open, but it may be displayed at night upon special occasions to produce a patriotic effect.
  • When the flag is hung vertically on a wall, window or door the Union (blue) should be to the observer’s left. When the flag is hung either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the Union (blue field) should be to the observer’s left.
  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • It should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement.
  • When the flag is used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder.
  • The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
  • It should never be displayed with the union down, save as a signal of dire distress.
  • It should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  • It should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • It should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored so that it might be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • It should never be used as covering for a ceiling.
  • It should never have anything placed on it.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose, nor embroidered on cushions or handkerchiefs, printed on paper napkins or boxes, nor used as any portion of a costume.
  • When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.