Flag Etiquette All Year

Many Americans often display the Stars and Stripes, especially on holidays, such as Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, Flag Day (June 14) and Independence Day (July 4). Here are ten everyday tips to keep in mind when displaying a national, state, city, or company flag.  Please keep in mind when you’re planning a special event or special use of flags, additional tips may apply. Contact us for guidance pertaining to your specific situations.  There is great protocol on this subject.

1. Indoor versus outdoor flags:  It is important to know the difference between flags made for outdoor versus indoor use; don’t confuse the two. Indoor and outdoor flags are different and should not be interchanged. Outdoor flags are usually made of light-weight nylon, while indoor flags are usually made of heavy-weight cotton or blended fibers and may have gold fringe. If you’re not sure whether yours is for indoor or outdoor use, call me. I’d be most happy to provide a free assessment.

2. Lighting:  Always display a flag with proper lighting, either by sunlight or an appropriate lighting source.  Do not display a flag in a dark, unlit corner. Unless a flag is made for heavy weather conditions, a flag is generally flown only in fair weather. When a flag is left flying overnight, it should not be left in the dark.  It must be lit with a spotlight. Otherwise, it should be taken down and raised the following day.

3. Outdoor flags:  Outdoor flags are raised at dawn and lowered at dusk. There may be exceptions to this depending on the circumstance. For example, on Memorial Day, flags are flown at half-mast until noon and at full-mast the rest of the day, until dusk.

4. Appropriate behavior:  A flag is to be raised briskly and lowered slowly, it’s important to honor ceremonial traditions. When lowering the flag, no part of it should ever touch the ground or other objects. It should always be received by someone with open hands and arms.  Always fold the flag neatly and with respect, especially at home… again honoring the ceremonial traditions.

5. Damaged flags: Do not display torn, tattered or frayed flags. If it’s in poor condition, have it mended immediately, or replaced.  When destroying a flag it should be destroyed respectfully, generally by burning in a dignified manner. Take advantage of the resources to help dispose of damaged flags. Most American Legion Posts offer this service, often on Flag Day, June 14th.  Many Cub Scout Packs, Boy and Girl Scout Troops also offer this service. TIP:  Use this time of year to get yourself a new flag and discard the old one with dignity.

6. On a car:  When displaying a flag on your car, it should be securely fastened straight-up on the front right fender.

7. Advertisements:  Contrary to what we see in the media and elsewhere, the flag should never be used for advertising purposes, nor should it be used to carry or deliver anything, nor worn as clothing.  It should not be embroidered onto baseball caps and other sports uniforms, nor printed on T-shirts and other articles of clothing. It should not be printed on anything intended to be discarded after a temporary use, such as paper napkins. These dos and don’ts are noted in all the etiquette books, so please—as the saying goes—don’t shoot the messenger! (… ah well, I suppose from now on, I won’t be wearing my flag vest, nor will I be allowing my husband to wear his flag tie, nor using anything with a flag on it.)  Wait… there are exceptions! wearing a flag patch is acceptable on the uniforms of personnel such as military, police, fire and public safety, and by members of patriotic and officially sanctioned organizations, such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Scouting organizations and others. When in doubt, contact me to assess the situation together.

8. Multiple flags:  When displaying multiple flags on a flagpole, the U.S. flag should be the largest flag flown at the top. Other flags should be flown directly below in sizes no larger than the American flag. Make sure each flag is displayed in the proper order and position, each mounted and facing the same direction. There is a great deal of protocol to follow in this area, too numerous to list at this time—call me!

9. Showing respect:  When saluting the flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing the National Anthem, these are all done by standing at attention and facing the flag. Citizens will place their right hand over their heart. Anyone wearing a hat should remove it, male or female and regardless of the type of hat. Remove the hat by taking it off with the right hand, held to the left shoulder, with the hand over the heart. For military or others wearing official uniforms, hats should not be removed; rather stand at attention and salute.

10. Honoring the dead:  When placing a flag at half-staff, first hoist it to the top, then lower it back down to a position halfway between the top and bottom of the flagpole.   On certain holidays, such as Memorial Day, the flag is displayed at half-staff until noon and at full staff from noon to dusk (this was already briefly touched on in tip 3).

In the days ahead, look around your office and community and make note of how flags are being displayed and flown.  If you are unsure about how your flags are being displayed, please contact me by telephone or email for a FREE assessment.  Take a photo of your flag and email it to me.  I’d be happy to confirm and help submit suggestions on to properly display your flag.

As you can see, flags should be taken seriously. For additional information, the U.S. Flag Code, as adopted by Congress, may be seen at  http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagcode.htm.  Other sites are also available by searching the keywords “flag etiquette.”


P.S.  If you think no one’s paying attention, how about these examples of flag etiquette violations in recent news reports:

April 2004, McDonald’s raises flag to full staff after customer complaint. McDonald’s official said Wednesday that the company erred when it asked its restaurants to fly flags at half-staff to honor a company official, who died April 19.

April 2006, protesters held a U.S. flag upside-down to protest pending federal legislation, in Costa Mesa, California. Section 8a., “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.”

Super Bowl 2004, Janet Jackson’s “costume malfunction” made international news; that same half-time show featured the wearing of an American flag by performer Kid Rock. He later removed the flag poncho and hurled it over his head. Section 8d. says, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel.”

In July 2003 President Bush autographed a small flag. This picture was circulated across the Internet noting its violation of the Flag Code: “The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

Question:  What other items do you have to add to this list?  Do let us hear from you by locating this article at www.AdvancedEtiquette.com/blog.  You may also reach us at www.AdvancedEtiquette.com.  If you enjoyed this article and want more, subscribe to our “Etiquette Tip of the Month” newsletter—at no charge—filled with great monthly tips on all sorts of topics from international business and social etiquette and protocol to everyday life subjects.  It will be great to have you as a member of our happy family of subscribers at www.AdvancedEtiquette.com/subscribe.

Happy Practicing!

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