Flag Code, Etiquette and Laws


Our nation reveres the flag, not out of a sense of unquestioning worship but out of a deep sense of our national heritage. Strengthened by our noble deeds, splendid accomplishments, and untold sacrifices, the flag reflects America’s pledge to uphold Freedom and work for peace throughout the world. It is America’s strength in honor, as dignified in the stars and stripes of the flag, which helps to establish the moral character of our national foundation.  

The flag, endearingly referred to as “Old Glory,” represents all people of America. We, the people, are America. It is little wonder that the people of America are moved when saluting the flag is it passes by, reminding us that we are a part of this great land. We are “one nation under God.”

Its unfurled banner, which symbolizes the love and pride that we have as a nation, is a poignant reminder of America’s greatness and our fortune to live in a country which values freedom above all else. It signifies the commitment made by our fallen comrades who battled bravely to defend the honor of this sacred emblem – our American unity, our power, and our purpose as a nation, and it exemplifies the devotion of our leaders who continue to uphold its promise of liberty, justice and freedom for all.

Nothing evokes such strong emotion as seeing the flag, either a ceremony honoring a great event or draped over the coffin of a military veteran as a sign of mourning for a hero and a loved one.

The Flag Code

Previous to Flag Day, June 14, 1923 there were no federal or state regulations governing display of the United States Flag. It was on this date that the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference which was attended by representatives of the Army and Navy which had evolved their own procedures, and some 66 other national groups. This purpose of providing clear guidance based on the Army and Navy procedures relating to display and associated questions about the U. S. Flag was adopted by all organizations in attendance.

A few minor changes were made a year later during the Flag Day 1924 Conference, It was not until June 22, 1942 that Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included.

This code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does not impose any penalties, neither civil or criminal for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.

Criminal penalties for certain acts of desecration to the flag were contained in Title 18 of the United States Code prior to 1989. The Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson; June 21, 1989, held the statute unconstitutional. This statute was amended when the Flag Protection Act of 1989 (Oct. 28, 1989) imposed a fine and/or up to I year in prison for knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor or trampling upon any flag of the United States. The Flag Protection Act of 1989 was struck down by the Supreme Court decision, United States vs. Eichman, decided on June 11, 1990.

While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to issue ‘official’ rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups. Consequently, different interpretations of various provisions of the Code may continue to be made. The Flag Code may be fairly tested: ‘No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United States of America.’ Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.

With Liberty and justice for All

flag variationsEven before the American Revolution, flags bearing the familiar red and white stripes, which symbolize the unity of the original 13 colonies of America, began to appear. These stripes were later combined with the British Union Jack to produce the Continental flag that flew over George Washington’s headquarters during the siege of Boston.

Grand Union Flag (1775 – 1777)

Although it is not exactly clear who created it and when, a new colonial flag was raised on January 1, 1776, at the camp of the Continental Army near Boston. Known as the Grand Union flag, Continental Union flag, or simply the Union flag, this banner featured the British Union Jack as a canton on a field of 13 red and white stripes representing the 13 colonies. The symbolism apparently carried a double message–loyalty to Great Britain but unity of the American colonies.

In November 1775, the Continental Congress voted funds for a fleet of four ships to protect the southern colonies. One of the ships is known to have flown the Grand Union flag. It is likely that during the early years of the Revolution, American ships flying this flag docked at Savannah or sailed in the coastal waters off Georgia’s mainland.

Almost a year passed after the Declaration of Independence was signed before a new flag was adopted by the Congress. But variations in the flag were persistent, and changes continued during much of the 19th century. The Flag Act of 1818 fixed the number of horizontal stripes at 13, and gave the President the authority to determine the star arrangement. The now-familiar stars and stripes were not carried into battle by the United States Army until the Mexican War.

Finally, in 1912, an executive order was established which defined the design of the flag, including the star arrangement. Later, when Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union, stars representing those states were added to the flag, adapting the traditional horizontal arrangement.

American involvement in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II stimulated patriotic sentiments and interest in the flag. In 1942, Congress established rules and customs concerning the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

The years since World War II have seen the refinement of various laws and regulations concerning the flag. Today, it has become an accepted part of the decoration of most public buildings and a symbol regarded as appropriate to almost any setting where citizens gather.

Pledge to the Flag

flag pledge“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the“REPUBLIC” for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

After first appearing in a copy of the Youth’s Companion in 1892, as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, the pledge to the flag received the official recognition of Congress on June 22, 1942. The phrase, “under God,” was added to the pledge by Congress on June 14, 1954, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said that “in this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

Red Skelton, during the presentation of his CBS television show on the night of January 14, 1969, read his version of the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag. He immediately received 200,000 requests for it, he recorded it and the record was widely played throughout the country. Skelton had learned his adaptation of the pledge as a schoolboy in Vincennes, Indiana. The teacher felt his pupils were bored reciting the pledge every morning (times haven’t changed much), so he decided to explain to his students what the lines they were mumbling meant.

 “I”— me, an individual, a committee of one.

“Pledge”— dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.

“Allegiance” — my love and devotion.

“To the Flag” — our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom.  Wherever she waves, there is respect because your loyalty has given her dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job.

Of the united” — that means that we have all come together

States” — individual communities that have united into 50 great states.  Fifty communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided by imaginary boundaries, yet common purpose and that’s love for country.

Of America”— Home of the Brave and Land of the Free.

And to the Republic” — a state in which limited Sovereign Power is granted to representatives chosen by the people who govern.  And government is the people and it’s representatives chosen by the people who govern.  And government is the people and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.

“For which it stands” — flying proudly, never touching the ground or displayed below other flags.

One nation under GOD” — meaning so blessed by GOD.

“Indivisible” — incapable of being divided.

“With Liberty” — which is freedom and the RIGHTS or power to live one’s own life without threats or fear of some sort of retaliation.

“And justice” — the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.

“For all” — which means it’s as much your country as it is mine.

When rendering the pledge of allegiance, persons should stand at attention, face the flag, and, if in uniform, salute, or otherwise place the RIGHT hand over the heart. Persons wearing the caps of veterans’ service organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans, are expected to salute. Others, such as Boy or Girl Scouts in uniform, should render respect to the flag in accordance with the traditions of the organization whose uniform they are wearing.

Our National Anthem

    The “Star Spangled Banner” has been designated as the national anthem of the United States of America. During the playing of the anthem when the flag is displayed, persons not in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with their RIGHT hand over their heart. Those in uniform should begin saluting the flag at the first note of the music, and hold the salute until the last note of the anthem is played. This also applies to those wearing veterans’ organization caps or the uniforms of other patriotic organizations.

Displaying the Flag

When displaying the flag, it is important to remember certain guidelines of proper flag etiquette. They are:

displaying flag

When on display or carried in a procession with other flags, the flag should be positioned to its own RIGHT. Also, it should be placed to the RIGHT of a speaker or staging area, while other flags are placed to the left.flag with others

When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally from a window sill, balcony, or building, the stars of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.

The flag 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.

flag on wallWhen the flag is displayed either vertically or horizontally against a wall, the stars should be placed at the top of the flag and on the observer’s left.  If the flag is on a pole or staff it is placed on the speakers right and the other flags are placed on the speakers left.  The flag should never be draped over or cover the speakers podium.  It should never be fastened to the stage or platform in front of or below the speaker.

flag with other countriesWhen the flag is flown with flags of other nations they are to be displayed from separate staffs of the same height, and each should be of equal size. International law forbids the display of the flag of one nation to be flown above that of another nation during time of peace.

flag over streetWhen the flag is unfurled for display across a street, it should be hung vertically, with the stars arranged to the north or east.  It must not touch the buildings, ground, trees or bushes.  It should be high enough that it does not drag across anything passing below it.

    During a time of national mourning, the flag can be flown at half mast by order or proclamation of the President of the United States. When flown at half mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half staff position. The flag should be raised to the peak before it is lowered at the end of the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half mast until noon, then raised to the top of the staff and flown until sunset. Local customs regarding the lowering of company, city, or other flags to half mast are directed by the executive officers of those service areas.

    flag over casketWhen the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be placed with the stars at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or be allowed to touch the ground.

    Respect for the Flag

    The Flag Code, a national guideline on ways in which the flag is to be respected, states that no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America. Specific ways, in which the flag should not be used, according to the code, are:

    flag distressThe flag should not be dipped to any person or thing, and can be flown upside down only as a distress signal.

    The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a way that would allow it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged.

    The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, work, or other designs of any kind placed upon it.

    The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

    The flag should never be used for advertising purposes. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, paper napkins, boxes, or anything that is designed for temporary use. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a flag’s staff or halyard.

    flag distressThe flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. Bunting of blue, white, and red can be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of a platform, or for decoration in general.

    No part of the flag should be used as an element of a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be worn on the uniform of military personnel, firemen, and members of patriotic or other national organizations, such as the uniforms of veterans’ service organizations or Scout uniforms.

    flag foldingWhen lowering the flag, make certain that no part of it touches the ground. It should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag, ceremoniously fold it length wise in half, then repeat with the blue field on the outside. Finally, while one person holds it by the blue field, another then makes a triangular fold in the opposite end, continuing to fold it in triangles until only the blue shield shows. A properly proportioned flag will fold 13 times on the triangles, representing the 13 Original Colonies.  When finally complete the triangular folded flag is emblematical of the tri-corner hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution.  When folded no red or white stripe is to be evident leaving only the honor field of blue and stars.


    It is proper to display the flag from sunrise to sunset on all days the weather permits. The flag may also be displayed at night if illuminated by a light. But it is even more important to display the flag on national holidays and days of importance, including:

      New Year’s Day
      Inauguration Day
      Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday
      Lincoln’s Birthday
      Washington’s Birthday
      Easter Sunday
      Mother’s Day
      Armed Forces Day
      Memorial Day (half staff until noon)
      Flag Day
      Father’s Day
      Independence Day
      Labor Day
      Constitution Day
      Columbus Day
      Veterans Day
      Thanksgiving Day
      Christmas Day
      Election Days
      State and Local Holidays
      State Birthday

    The flag may be flown at half mast only when proclaimed by the President of the United States.

    When a flag is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning.


    6 thoughts on “Flag Code, Etiquette and Laws

    1. *** …the flag reflects America’s pledge to uphold Freedom and work for peace throughout the world. ***

      LOL. Yes, America is all about upholding freedom and peace. And I have a vacation home on the moon.

      They forgot to mention another rule of flag etiquette. When flying the flag from a building or other urban structure, take care that it doesn’t obscure the view of any government surveillance cameras that are mounted on that structure.

      1. The Title 4 flag, the flag of peace reflects the pledge of freedom and peace, not the military flag. When we forget about the differences in meanings of the flags, then we mock the purpose of most of the flags flying. To learn more about the Title 4 flag, click the link at the bottom of the page. The reason I posted this article was for the info. about the flag of peace, the people’s flag, but it was apparently not included, but it’s in the full article at the link.

        *** …the flag reflects America’s pledge to uphold Freedom and work for peace throughout the world. ***

      1. Yes, it is interesting. I was reading some stuff about that last night after Henry told me about it on that other thread.

        Still, my view remains that tyranny has taken over and continues to strengthen itself, regardless of which flag is flown in whatever manner. I just can’t get too concerned about minutiae relating to flags when, for perhaps the first time in history, freedom stands a very real chance of being extinguished around the globe. To use a crude analogy, that would be like getting angry at a friend for farting in my house when my neighbors are dumping truckloads of manure in my backyard.

    2. Thanks, Katie, for more info in that link about the yellow fringe on flags…whenever I see these admiralty/military flags in churches due to their 501-c3 status, I want to puke (and is the reason I no longer go to church)…maybe God and Christ feel the same way! If only Christians understood how the yellow fringe has betrayed our fallen soldiers (though it is a military flag!)

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