United States Flag Code

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One means of collecting American flags for disposal. This box was found in a public library.

The United States Flag Code establishes advisory rules for display and care of the flag of the United States. It is Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code (4 U.S.C. § 1 et seq). This is a U.S. federal law, but there is no penalty for failure to comply with it and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that punitive enforcement would conflict with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.[1]

This etiquette is as applied within U.S. jurisdiction. In other countries and places, local etiquette applies.


  • The words "flag, standard, colors, or ensign", as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.[2]
Marines and a sailor aboard USS Nassau practice folding a flag.

The proper way to fold a flag

  • The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, unless it is the ensign responding to a salute from a ship of a foreign nation. This is sometimes misreported as a tradition that comes from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where countries were asked to dip their flag to King Edward VII; American team flag bearer Ralph Rose did not follow this protocol, and teammate Martin Sheridan is often, though apocryphally, quoted as proclaiming that "this flag dips before no earthly king."[3] This tradition was codified as early as the 1911 U.S. Army drill regulations.[4]
  • The flag should never be displayed with the union (the starred blue union in the Canton) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.[5]
  • The flag should not be used as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery", or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general (exception for coffins). Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.[6]
  • The flag should never be drawn back or bunched up in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.[7]
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.[8]
  • The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
  • Flag lapel pins may also be worn (they are considered replicas) and are worn near the heart.
  • The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be stepped on.
  • In a parade, the flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle, railroad train, or boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.[9]
  • When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
  • The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
  • If the flag is being used at a public or private estate, it should not be hung (unless at half staff or when an all-weather flag is displayed)[10] during rain or violent weather.
  • When a flag is so tattered that it no longer fits to serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA,[11][12] National Sojourners, and other organizations regularly conduct dignified flag-burning ceremonies, often on Flag Day, June 14.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it. Contrary to an urban legend, the flag code does not state that a flag that touches the ground should be burned. Instead, it is considered disrespectful to the flag and the flag in question should be moved in such a manner so it is not touching the ground.[11]
  • The flag should always be permitted to fall freely. (An exception was made during the Apollo moon landings when the flag hung from an extensible horizontal bar, allowing full display even in the absence of an atmosphere.)[13]

Displaying the flag outdoors[edit]

  • When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When it is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag, the flag of the United States must always be at the top except that the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.
  • When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the street runs north-south, the stars should face east. For streets running east-west, the stars should face north. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building and the stars facing away from it.
  • When the United States flag is displayed with the flags of states of the union or municipalities, and not with the flags of other nations, the federal flag, which represents all states, should be flown above and at the center of the other flags. 4 U.S.C. § 7(e). [14] The other flags may be the same size but none may be larger.
  • No other flag should be placed above it. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.
  • When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously. The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation in time of peace.[15]
  • The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously.
  • Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset, although the Flag Code permits night time display "when a patriotic effect is desired" and the flag is illuminated.[16] Similarly, the flag should be displayed only when the weather is fair, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.[17]
  • The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is longer.

The flag is specifically authorized to be flown 24 hours a day at certain locations:[18]

  • Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948).
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore, Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954).
  • Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961).
  • Lexington Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965).
  • White House, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970).
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971).
  • Any port of entry to the United States which is continuously open (Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972).
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4, 1975).

At other locations, it is flown continuously by custom, including:[19]

Out of practical necessity, five of the six U.S. flags standing on the moon (the Apollo 11 flag was blown over during departure) fly continuously, even during the two-week lunar night.[20]

Displaying the flag indoors[edit]

The union is always in the upper left corner.
  • When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Place it to the speaker's right, the audience's left, in a staging area or sanctuary. Other flags should be to the speaker's left.
  • The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
  • When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.
  • When the flag is displayed against a wall vertically or horizontally, its union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag's own right, and to the observer's left.

Parading and saluting the flag[edit]

  • When carried in a procession, the flag should be to the right of the marchers.
  • When other flags are carried, the flag of the United States may be centered in front of the others or carried to their right. When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all should face the flag and salute.
  • To salute, all persons come to attention.
    • Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute.
    • Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute.
    • Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart.
    • Citizens who are not veterans or members of the armed services should not render the military salute.
    • Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention.

All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem[edit]

  • When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, all present should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart, with the exception of those in uniform who shall salute.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 contained an amendment to allow un-uniformed service members, military retirees, and veterans to render a hand salute during the hoisting, lowering, or passing of the U.S. flag.

A later amendment further authorized hand-salutes during the national anthem by veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel. This was included in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which President Bush signed on Oct. 14, 2008.

  1. Designation: The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
  2. Conduct During Playing: During a rendition of the national anthem:
    1. When the flag is displayed:[21]
      1. individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
      2. members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
      3. all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
    2. when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

The flag in mourning[edit]

The flag, as draped over President John F. Kennedy's coffin at his state funeral.
  • To place the flag at half-staff (or half-mast, on ships), hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff.
  • The flag is to be raised again to the peak for a moment before it is lowered.
  • On Memorial Day, the flag is displayed at half-staff from sunrise until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset.
  • The flag is to be flown at half-staff in mourning for the death of designated, principal government leaders.
  • The flag is to be flown at half-staff for thirty days in mourning for the death of the current or former President of the United States.
  • The U.S. flag is otherwise flown at half-staff (or half-mast on ships) only when directed by the President of the United States, a state governor (within that state), or the Mayor of Washington, D.C. (within the District of Columbia).
  • When used to cover a casket or coffin, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave; it is also to be removed before the casket is set for cremation. It is considered a proper sign of courtesy to salute a casket covered with the American flag as the pall (in military and state funerals) at the proper time.
  • The U.S. flag is to be flown at half staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15. 4 U.S.C. §7(m) except when May 15th is also Armed Forces Day which falls on the third Saturday of May, upon which the flag should be flown at full staff.
  • The U.S. flag is to be flown half staff on Patriot Day (September 11).[22]

History[edit]

Prior to Flag Day, June 14, 1923, neither the federal government nor the states had official guidelines governing the display of the United States' flag.

On June 14, 1923, the National Flag Code was constructed by representatives of over 68 organizations, under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of The American Legion. The code drafted by that conference was printed by the national organization of The American Legion and given nationwide distribution.

On June 22, 1942, the Code became Public Law 77-623; chapter 435.[23] Little had changed in the code since the Flag Day 1924 Conference. The most notable change was the removal of the Bellamy salute due to its similarities to the Hitler salute.[24]

The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 prohibits real estate management organizations from restricting homeowners from displaying the Flag of the United States on their own property.

The Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007 added a provision to fly the flag at half-staff upon the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who died while serving on active duty. It also gave the mayor of the District of Columbia the authority to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff. Federal facilities in the area covered by the governor or mayor of the District of Columbia will also fly the flag at half-staff as directed.[25]

The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (Sec. 595.) allows the military salute for the flag during the national anthem by members of the Armed Forces not in uniform and by veterans.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990).
  2. ^ 4 U.S.C.§3
  3. ^ Mallon, Bill ; Buchanan, Ian "To no earthly king...", Journal of Olympic History - September 1999, p. 21-28
  4. ^ "Infantry Drill Regulations. United States Army. Corrected to Dec. 31, 1917." pg 185, section 768.
  5. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 8(a)
  6. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 8(d)
  7. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 8(f)
  8. ^ "US Government Printing Office - FDsys - Browse Publications". Frwebgate.access.gpo.gov. Retrieved October 17, 2012. 
  9. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 7(b)
  10. ^ "Flag code". uscode.house.gov. Retrieved October 17, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. "Flag disposal", www.snopes.com. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  12. ^ Flag disposal info, www.united-states-flag.com. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  13. ^ Platoff, Anne M. (1993) "Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon". NASA. Retrieved: October 22, 2010.
  14. ^ "Flag code". www.senate.gov. Retrieved October 17, 2012. 
  15. ^ The flag of the United Nations is flown in a position of superior prominence or honor at the headquarters of the United Nations. The Flag Code specifically notes this custom and states that the Code should not be construed to render this custom illegal.
  16. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 6(a)
  17. ^ 4 U.S.C. § 6(c)
  18. ^ a b "Federal Citizen Information Center: Our Flag". Retrieved May 5, 2013. 
  19. ^ Other unverified locations are listed at: "Where U.S. Flag Flies 24 Hours A Day". Retrieved May 5, 2013. 
  20. ^ "U.S. flags still on the moon, except one". July 30, 2012. Retrieved May 5, 2013. 
  21. ^ "36 U.S.C. § 301". United States Code. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute. Retrieved March 16, 2011. 
  22. ^ "36 U.S.C. § 144(b)(2)". United States Code. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute. Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  23. ^ Section 7, Pub.L. 77−623, 56 Stat. 380, Chap. 435, H.J.Res. 303, enacted June 22, 1942. (WITH the Bellamy Salute)
  24. ^ Section 7, Pub.L. 77−829, 56 Stat. 1074, Chap. 806, H.J.Res. 359, enacted December 22, 1942. (WITHOUT the Bellamy Salute)
  25. ^ "Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007". Acts of the 110th United States Congress by United States Congress. June 29, 2007. Retrieved September 24, 2009. 

External links[edit]