Freedom’s natal day is here,
Fire the guns and shout for freedom,
See the flag above unfurled!
Hail the stars and stripes forever,
Dearest flag in all the world.
– Florence A. Jones
In celebration of the birth of our nation, this weekend the flag of the United States will be displayed more prominently across the country than at any other time of the year: fluttering up and down roadways, waving to our neighbors from front porches and churchyards, and flying in the wind while attached to boats cruising the waterways.
Standards for handling and displaying the American flag are set forth by the United States Code, written into law by Congress in 1942. While this federal code does not impose penalties for improper handling or misuse of the flag, if we care enough to display a flag, we should care enough to treat it with respect.
Here are some basic rules to follow when displaying our flag:
A flag on your house should hang from a staff that angles out from the front wall, a windowsill, or balcony. Do not allow the flag to touch anything beneath it, such as the ground or water. You may also hang the flag from a horizontal staff.
Whether the flag hangs from an angled or horizontal staff, be sure the union (the blue square with the 50 white stars) is at the top. Hanging the flag with the union down signals extreme distress.
When the flag is displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be at the top and to your left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be hung so that the union is on the left when you see it from the street.
The American flag is not to be worn as clothing, used as a blanket, drapery, etc., or be printed on anything that is designed for temporary use. It is a good thing that we aren’t penalized for violating this code; how often do we see flag-imprinted paper plates, napkins, head scarves, and even bikinis?
If you wear a flag lapel pin, wear it on your left lapel close to your heart.
Though it is customary to fly the flag from sunrise to sunset, the U.S. Code states that when a patriotic effect is desired, you can display it around the clock. If you do, you should illuminate it with a light.
If an American flag is on the same staff as other flags, it should always be at the top, as no other flag should be in a position of greater prominence.
When displayed from a car, the flagstaff should be fixed or clamped firmly to the vehicle, ideally on the right side. The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back. The same holds true for a flag displayed on a float in a parade.
Never fly a torn and tattered flag. If you cannot clean and repair the tears, dispose of your flag properly. The U.S. Code states that unserviceable flags should be burned in a respectful, ceremonial manner, but, in some states, it is illegal to burn synthetic materials. While it is not illegal to simply throw your flag away, you should do it discreetly, i.e. wrap it in a bag so the flag is not showing. Most of us would cringe if we walked by a trashcan and saw an American flag tossed on top of the garbage. If you don’t want to throw the flag away and burning is not an option, donate the flag to your local American Legion post, boy scout troop or ROTC unit. They all hold respectful flag retirement and flag disposal ceremonies.
The U.S. Code states that the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. So fly Old Glory with pride, and treat her well.