American Flag

It is proper etiquette to fly the American flag above all other flags, including those of states, cities or other entities.

Since the renewed efforts to instill patriotism in our hearts, Americans have turned to Old Glory to show their pride in, and loyalty to, their country, but in the process probably have committed the unthinkable: They’ve abused the American flag they revere.

Mishandling and improperly displaying the flag is not a crime, but merely a breach of established etiquette. Even sticklers for proper flag courtesies only cringe and look the other way, excusing innocent mistakes as the price of the newfound passion for showing the Stars and Stripes.

However, perennially waiting in the wings is a proposed constitutional amendment that would make flag desecration a crime, although “desecration” has yet to be defined and could mean almost anything to the etiquette police. The amendment has failed to attract enough congressional votes for adoption whenever it’s introduced.

If such an amendment is ever adopted in Congress, and ratified by at least 38 states, entire industries that produce billions of dollars in sports apparel and souvenirs might be forced to stop using the U.S. flag as a motif.

Meanwhile, however, the official flag code with dozens of do’s and don’ts is available from various organizations, including a number of websites, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars at www.vfw.org/Flag/

Here is a sample of the most common right and wrong ways of handling the U.S. flag:

  • Don’t display the flag at night unless properly lighted.
  • Don’t display the flag during inclement weather, unless the flag is an all-weather flag.
  • Don’t drape the flag over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle, train or boat; when displayed on an auto, the staff or pole should be fixed on the chassis or right fender.
  • Don’t use the flag to cover a statue or monument.  
  • Don’t allow the flag to touch the ground, water, floor or merchandise.
  • Don’t use the flag as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.
  • Don’t use the flag for advertising purposes, nor embroidered on cushions or handkerchiefs, or printed on paper napkins and boxes.
  • Do destroy the flag, preferably by burning, when in no condition to be a fitting emblem.
  • Do stand and observe the passing of the flag in a parade; civilians with their right hands over their hearts, those in uniform with a military salute.
  • Do display the flag on Memorial Day at half-staff until noon, then raised to the top of the staff thereafter.
  • Do fly the U.S. flag above all other flags of states, cities or other localities on halyards.
  • Do display a flag over a street by suspending it vertically, with stars to the north on an east-west street or to the east on a north-south street.
  • Do display the flag near the administration building of every public institution, at polling places on Election Day and at schools during school days.
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