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American Flag Etiquette

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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American Flag Etiquette

When decorating be sure to display and handle the United States flag properly.

When being displayed, the flag should always be allowed to fall free. It should not be drawn back or up, in folds. Also, it should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water or other items. This is important to remember when display flags along sidewalks and in yards. If it does touch anything beneath it, correct this mistake quickly. If the flag is soiled from touching the ground or dirt, the flag should be cleaned with a mild soap solution and dried before being displayed again.

The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding or drapery. The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature placed upon it. Also, the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner.

For patriotic decorations bunting of blue, white and red, always arrange with white in the middle and blue above the white and red below the white. Bunting should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of a platform and for decoration in general.

When displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the United States flag should be on the flag's own right. Its staff should be in front of the staff of any other flag. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from a window sill, balcony or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.

When the flag is not flown from a staff, it can be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall. The union or blue field should be uppermost and to the flag's own right or the observer's left. When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the flag should be displayed in the same way -- with the union to the left of the observer in the street. The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of distress, such as extreme danger to life or property.

When the flag is used on a speaker's platform or in the front of a room, the flag when on a staff, should hold the position of superior prominence. It should be in position to the speaker's right as they face the audience. Any other flag or banner should be placed on the left of the speaker or to the right of the audience.

It is a universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day, if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. A light needs to specifically illuminate the flag so it is recognizable by a casual observer.

The United States flag can be flown every day of the year, but should especially be flown:

  • New Year's Day
  • Inauguration Day
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday
  • Lincoln's Birthday
  • Washington's Birthday
  • Armed Forces Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Flag Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran's Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day
  • state holidays and other days as may be proclaimed by the United States President.

The United States flag should never be flown if it is faded or frayed. Give frayed and faded flags to organizations, such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Boy Scouts, in order to be ceremonially burned. Local posts and chapters of these organizations can be contacted for this type of disposal.

It is important to remember to give the flag proper respect during ceremonies of hoisting and lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, everyone should stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those in uniform should salute. When not in uniform men should remove their hats or caps with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was updated May 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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