“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” This line from “The Star-Spangled Banner” feels like a scene from a Fourth of July celebration. If you’ll be flying your flag on Independence Day, be sure to learn some American flag etiquette first.
American Flag Etiquette
The Fourth of July is a day of fireworks, summer fun, and yes, American flags. You may be wondering how the tradition of flying our nation’s flag became a part of celebrating our patriotic holidays. Believe it or not, it’s actually a part of America’s established rules for the handling and display of the flag.
The Flag Code
In 1942, Congress realized that everyday Americans needed some guidance about how to display our nation’s flag in a respectful way. In response, they passed a joint resolution known as “the flag code,” which provided us with the rules about American flag etiquette we still follow today.
One of those rules is that it is appropriate to display the American flag on state and federal holidays, which includes Independence Day. However, before you put that flag up on your porch, it’s a good idea to learn the other important rules of American flag etiquette.
How to Respectfully Display an American Flag
No matter how you display the flag, it’s important to do so with respect. The flag code provides American citizens with some specific instructions on how to do this correctly:
- It is appropriate to fly the American flag every day if one wishes. If you do not want to display an American flag every single day, it is best to fly it to mark patriotic holidays and special occasions.
- Whether displayed horizontally or vertically, the blue part of the flag (or the “Union” part) should be oriented to the viewer’s left. If hung from a flagpole, the Union should be at the top of the pole. If the flag is not hanging from a pole, it should lay flat.
- American flags should only be hung at half-mast at the discretion of the President, typically to mark a period of mourning after the death of a government official. A flag should never be hung or displayed upside down, unless it is a symbol of distress.
- The flag should be hoisted briskly and not permitted to touch the ground. While displayed, the flag should never touch anything beneath it or beside it, but instead be permitted to wave freely.
- If you are displaying other flags alongside your American flag, they should be lower than the American flag or oriented to the left of it. Any flags hung from the same flagpole as an American flag should hang beneath it.
- The flag should always be treated with the utmost respect and care. It should not be displayed or used in a way that would allow it to be torn or easily damaged. It should not be used as clothing, curtains, or other decoration. It should also not be used for advertising purposes.
- If the flag is dirtied or damaged to the point it is no longer an appropriate emblem for our nation, it should be ceremonially disposed of. Preferably it should be burned, but if that is not possible, it should still be disposed of as respectfully as possible. American Legion chapters will often accept worn flags for annual ceremonial disposal in July.
Flying the American flag on patriotic holidays is a privilege and a responsibility for every citizen of this country. If you learn your American flag etiquette, you’ll be able to do it with pride. So let your flag fly and have a safe and happy Fourth of July!
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