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The 12 Rules of American Flag Etiquette

Here's how to honor the stars and stripes.

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Photography by: Marcus Nilsson

You might be surprised to learn that prior to Flag Day in 1923, there were no official guidelines on how to display our star-spangled banners. It was on this day that the National Flag Code was drafted by representatives of the Army and Navy under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion. It was printed and given nationwide distribution. Years passed. Then, on June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution (later amended on December 22, 1942) that dictated what is known today as the U.S. Flag Code.

 

In the code, there are several sections on how to display the flag, how to maintain and handle the flag, and as well as general respect. Perhaps the most important one dictates how citizens should behave around the stars and stripes, as it is the emblem of our identity as a sovereign nation. Therefore, citizens are asked to stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered.

 

We're reminded of this when the flag is flown proudly everywhere: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Election Day, and Flag Day itself. Of course, not all patriotic celebrations are created equal. Here are the do's and don'ts as outlined in the U.S. Flag Code to make sure your tribute is a respectful one:

 

1. Display the flag only between sunrise and sunset on buildings and stationary staffs. The flag may be displayed for twenty-four hours if illuminated in darkness.

 

2. Do not display the flag in inclement weather.

 

3. Whether displaying the flag vertically or horizontally, make sure the canton of stars is visible on the upper left-hand side.

 

4. Do not let the flag touch the ground.

 

5. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

 

6. Before flying a flag at half-staff, hoist to its peak for an instant before lowering it.

 

7. When displayed against a wall with another flag, their staffs crossed, the American flag should be on the right of the other flag (on the viewer's left), with its staff on top of that of the other flag.

 

8. When flags of states, cities, or localities are flown on the same halyard with the United States flag, the national flag should always be at the top. No other flag should be placed above, or if on the same level, to the flag's right.

 

9. When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they should be flown from separate staffs of equal height. The flags should be of approximately equal size.

 

10. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle, the canton should be placed at the peak of the staff.

 

11. An unusable flag that is damaged and worn and can no longer be displayed should be destroyed in a dignified way by burning.

 

12. When not on display, the flag should be respectfully folded into a triangle, symbolizing the tricorn hats worn by colonial soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

 

[LEARN: How to Properly Fold the American Flag Into a Triangle]

Want to learn more? In this video, Martha shows how to fold an American flag into a triangle: