Traditionally, flags have been respected and rules have governed their display. However, during the twentieth century, flag etiquette received particular attention in the United States where the flag has become a symbol of patriotism. June 14, the anniversary of the flag's adoption, has been celebrated as Flag Day since 1916; it is a legal holiday in Pennsylvania.
In 1942, Congress adopted a Flag Code, subsequently amended, that set forth uniform procedures for displaying the flag in a respectful manner. The code formalized and unified the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag.
How the flag is not to be used
- The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing.
- The flag should never be flown upside down except as a distress signal.
- The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white, and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
- The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard
- The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
- The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.
- The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
- When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously. The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
- The flag should never be placed in the trash. When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner. Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day, June 14th. Contact your local American Legion Hall and inquire about the availability of this service.
When displaying the flag inside
- When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right (this is important to remember when hanging the flag in a dojang). Place it to the right of the speaker or staging area or sanctuary. Other flags should be to the left.
- The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
- When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.
- When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag's own right, to the observer's left.
- When parading the flag, the flag should be to the right of the marchers. When other flags are carried, the flag of the United States may be centered in front of the others or carried to their right. When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all should face the flag and salute.
- To salute the flag, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute. Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with a head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart. Members of organizations in formation salute upon command of the person in charge. Members of the Armed Forces and Veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute.
- The pledge of allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting. When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention, salute at the first note, and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed toward the flag, if displayed, otherwise toward the music.
When displaying the flag outside
- If the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.
- When the flag is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag of a state, community, society or scout unit, the flag of the United States must always be at the top except that the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.
- When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building.
- When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flagpoles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor, to its own right. The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger. No other flag should ever be placed above it. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.
- When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously. The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.
Raising and lowering the flag
- The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.
- The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted. The salute is held through the last note of the music or until the flag reaches the top of the pole and is tied off if there is no music.
- The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of the music, whichever is the longest.
Flag in mourning
- Half Staff
- To place the flag at half-staff, hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff.
- To lower the flag, raised it to the peak for a moment before it is lowered.
- On Memorial Day, the flag is displayed at half-staff until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset.
- The flag is to be flown at half-staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential or gubernatorial order.
- When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.