The U.S. flag is handled and displayed in accordance with the Federal Flag Code, known as Public Law 94-344. The federal flag code does not impose penalties for the Flag’s misuse, but the states may enact penalties for flag abuse. Under the federal code, the Flag represents a living symbol of the country. It must elicit respect at all times in all situations.
Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989 in response to a Supreme Court ruling stating that state laws prohibiting flag burning violated the Constitution. Under the law, anyone who intentionally desecrates the Flag will be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. In 1990, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Flag Protection Act violated the First Amendment, which provides freedom of speech.
What You Need to Know
According to customary guidelines, flags should only be flown from sunrise to sunset. However, the Flag can be kept up at all times if it’s illuminated during the night. The American Flag should not be displayed during inclement weather or days with strong winds unless they are all-weather flags. In addition to being displayed often, it should also be displayed on national and state holidays and special occasions. In public places, including school buildings, polling places on election days, and public institutions, the Flag should be displayed. The manner of execution should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
You should never fold or drape the Flag. Bunting in red, white, and blue should be draped as decoration, with blue at the top and red at the bottom. A new federal or state government official may be honored by lowering the flag to half staff on the president’s or governor’s orders. It is a custom for the flag to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day until noon.
Here are more customs to follow with illustrations:
- The American Flag should be presented at front and center in a flag line when carried during a procession with other flags. It should be either on the marching right or to the front and center when carried in procession. During a parade, the flag should be hung from a staff or suspended so that it falls freely. The Flag should not be draped over a vehicle.
- When presented with another flag placed from crossed staffs, the American Flag should be displayed to the left of it, facing the wall, and its staff should be in front of the other Flag’s staff.
- A U.S. flag should always be at the highest point in a group of flags duly displayed by staff.
- It should be displayed flat when without a staff or suspended for display without clinging to a staff. Put the unions over a street-facing North or East, depending on which direction the street faces.
- The union should always be at the Flag’s top when placed on a building’s side when the Flag is displayed as projected from a building. A flag should be hoisted, union first, from a pole extending from a building when that Flag is suspended from a rope.
- If there are flags from more than one state, city, or organization flown together, the United States should be at the top of the staff (except during church services at sea conducted by Navy chaplains).
The Correct Way to Dispose of an American Flag
- As the Flag becomes too damaged to serve as an emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified and ceremonial way, preferably by burning.
- Typically, every year on Flag Day (June 14), your local American Legion will conduct a ceremony to retire old or worn flags; if you cannot do so yourself, contact your local chapter. In addition, you could ask your Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts troops if they want to retire your Flag.