The national flag of the United States of America is one of the most respected icon in our nation’s history. Old Glory’s represents freedom not just to American citizens – her thirteen stripes stand for liberty across the entire planet. With the Fourth of July coming up this weekend, it’s our job to make sure that the flag is treated with the respect it deserves.
Southern Living has teamed up with Pamela Eyring, President of The Protocol School of Washington®, to answer our readers’ most frequently asked flag etiquette questions.
Q: How do I properly hang an American flag from my house?
A: The flag may be displayed either horizontally or vertically in a window with the union (or blue field) to the left of the observer in the street. It can be hung from a staff mounted to the house, or in front of the house with the union to the observer’s left and stripes pointing to the right aloft and free. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
Q: Can I wear the flag as clothing?
A: No! The US Code Title 4 Chapter 1 (The Flag) states “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” However, it is common to see the image of the flag or the national colors (red, white and blue) being worn emblazoned on shirts to show patriotism.
Q: Where do I pin a flag lapel pin?
A: The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing and should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
Q: Can I fly a flag at night?
A: Traditionally, the flag is to be displayed from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, you may fly a flag at night if it is properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
Q: What kind of weather prohibits flying a flag?
A: The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except if you have an all-weather flag displayed.
Q: How do I attach a flag to my car?
A: It is more common for government vehicles transporting VIPs to have a flag or flags attached to the car. When looking at the vehicle, the flag should be affixed securely to the opposite side from the driver, which is the same side as the VIP seat. Flag stickers are more popularly used by civilians on the back window of cars.
Q: What do I do if I spill (bbq sauce) on the flag?
A: I would recommend some dining etiquette! Seriously, if you can easily remove the stain or sauce you could reuse the flag. If the flag is no longer in good repair, then it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
Q: Can I use the flag as decoration (i.e., as a table cloth, tent, etc)?
A: The flag should never be used for advertising purposes or be embroidered or printed on cushions, handkerchiefs, paper napkins or boxes designed for temporary use and discard. Stores sell these items, but I would never wipe my lips on a flag napkin and then throw it away. It’s disrespectful. Instead, mix solid color napkins of red, white and blue to show patriotism.
Q: Can I wash the flag myself, or do I need to get it dry cleaned?
A: I recommend replacing the flag instead so it is pristine and bright.
Q: What about the party-favor flags that my kids waive around – do the rules apply to those, too?
A: Yes and it is a great way to educate children showing respect for our nation through proper treatment of our flag.
Q: I dropped the flag. Am I required to burn it?
A: No. Accidents do happen. Immediately pick up the flag and rehang.
Q: What is the number one thing that I must NOT do?
A: Don’t ignore the flag during a ceremony or during the playing of our National Anthem. Face the flag and stand at attention with your right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove the headdress with your right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention.
About Pamela: Pamela Eyring holds etiquette courses all over the world, has discussed etiquette on CNN and the Today Show, and writes a Modern Business Etiquette column for international news agency Reuters. The Protocol School of Washington is based here in the South, in Columbia, S.C.