With recent events, Americans have been encouraged to fly the flag. While I appreciate Americans' enthusiasm, I've noticed some people flying the flag wrong. This can be more disrespectful than not flying it at all--most of our veterans and servicemen, as well as rescue and law enforcement personnel know the rules of proper flag display, and these rules are there to make sure the flag is not desecrated in any way. I learned these as a Boy Scout, and while I'm not necessarily the flag-flying type, it bothers me when people don't understand how to fly the flag. It's all about making sure the flag looks good, and isn't soiled, worn, ripped, etc., or used in a way that is not dignified.

So if you're going to do it, if you believe in the symbolism and power the flag represents, it's approriate to learn the rules and fly the flag correctly. Here are the guidelines, paraphrased from the United States Veterans' Administration web site.

  • Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it's illuminated during darkness.
  • The flag should not be subject to weather damage, so it should not be displayed during rain, snow and wind storms unless it is an all-weather flag. It should be displayed often, but especially on national and state holidays and special occasions.
  • The flag should be displayed on or near the main building of public institutions, schools during school days, and polling places on election days.
  • It should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • When carried in procession with other flags, the U.S. flag should be either on the marching right (the flag's right) or to the front and center of the flag line. When displayed on a float in a parade, the flag should be hung from a staff or suspended so it falls free.
  • It should not be draped over a vehicle.
  • When displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the U.S. flag should be on its own right (left to a person facing the wall) and its staff should be in front of the other flag's staff.
  • In a group of flags displayed from staffs, the U.S. flag should be at the center and the highest point. When flags of states, cities or organizations are flown on the same staff, the U.S. flag must be at the top (except during church services conducted at sea by Navy chaplains).
  • When other flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first and lowered last. It must be on the right of other flags and no other flag should stand higher than it. Flags of other nations should be flown from separate staffs. International custom dictates that flags of different nations be displayed at the same height in peacetime and be approximately the same size.
  • If the flag is suspended outdoors from a rope stretched from a building to a pole, the flag should be hoisted out from the building with the union first.
  • When the flag is displayed other than from a staff, it should be flat or suspended so that it falls free.
  • When displayed against something, such as a wall, the union should be at the top and to the flag's own right, the observer's left - whether displayed horizontally or vertically.
  • When displayed over a street or sidewalk, where it can be seen from either side, be sure the union is to the north on an east-west street, and to the east on a north-south street. The same directions apply in a building lobby or corridor with entrances to the east and west or north and south.
  • When displayed flat against the wall on a speaker's platform, the flag should be above and behind the speaker with the union on the left side as the audience looks at it (again, the flag's right). When the flag hangs from a staff in a church or public place, it should appear to the audience on the left, the speaker's right. Any other flags displayed should be placed on the opposite side of the speaker.
  • The flag may cover a casket, but should not cover a statue or monument for unveiling. It should never be draped or drawn back in folds. Draped red, white and blue bunting should be used for decoration, with the blue at the top and red at the bottom.
  • On a casket, the union (blue field) should be at the deceased person's head and heart, over the left shoulder. But the flag should be removed before the casket is lowered into the grave and should never touch the ground.
  • The flag may be flown at half-staff to honor a newly deceased federal or state government official by order of the president or the governor, respectively. On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon. Whenever the flag is displayed at half-staff, it should be first raised to the top. Lowering from half-staff is preceded by first raising it momentarily to the top. The flag may also be flown at half-staff in times of tragedy.

Other Things Not to Do with the Flag

Out of respect for the U.S. flag, never: During the hoisting or lowering of the flag or when it passes in parade or review, Americans should stand at attention facing the flag and place their right hand over the heart. Uniformed military members render the military salute. Men not in uniform should remove any headdress and hold it with their right hand at their left shoulder, the hand resting over the heart. Those who are not U.S. citizens should stand at attention. When the flag is worn out or otherwise no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Yes, you're sometimes supposed to burn the flag. It shocks me how many people don't know this. The flag can also be buried when it is disposed, but that's probably not a good idea for synthetic flags. And no, we're not talking in a landfill with the trash. Of course, if you're burning a flag to dispose of it, you should do so with the utmost solemnity and respect, and probably in private. Any other way of burning it is sending a political message. BTW, I respect the right to burn the flag as free speech, while recognizing how powerfully offensive this is to many people. I do not, however, respect burning someone else's flag. If you're going to do it, buy your own.

Also, while not a formal rule, I think it's a good idea: Do not eat the American Flag.

Given recent events in the United States, it is encouraging to see a strong upswing in patriotism in our nation. One can hardly go a block these days without seeing the American flag, a powerful symbol of patriotism in the United States. However, in recent days, I have seen several elements of display of the American flag that have disheartened me: frayed flags tied to car antennas and discarded flags lying on the ground. Such actions, to me and to many other Americans, demonstrate the opposite of what the display of the flag is supposed to demonstrate in the first place.

So, how should Americans treat their flag? After seeing this, I did a bit of research into proper flag care and etiquette in the United States and I discovered that there are a few simple principles to follow that will ensure that the flag you display is shown to the world with the proper respect that it deserves as an enduring symbol of the United States.

Flag etiquette in the United States was largely the brainchild of and formalized by Benjamin Franklin, though many have contributed to it. Essentially, it states proper techniques for displaying the flag in the most respectful manner possible.

Here are seven simple rules to ensure that your flag is displayed properly.

When hanging it, make sure the stars always in the upper left. The stars refer to the section of the flag that is blue with fifty white stars upon it. Here is how it should look when hanging:

---------------------------
|*************| | | | | | |
|*************| | | | | | |
|*************| | | | | | |
|*************| | | | | | |
|*************| | | | | | |
|*************| | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
---------------------------


|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|********************|-------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|

When present with a speaker, the flag should be on the speaker's right. Have the speaker face the crowd, and place the flag to his or her right.

When flying the U.S. flag with other flags, fly the U.S. flag in front of the pack and highest. This holds within the United States only, of course; highest respect should be paid to the flag of whatever nation you are in. So, if you are in Canada, the Canadian flag should be flown first and highest. There are a few exceptions to this, but they are extremely rare cases.

Don't let the flag touch the ground, ever. It should be clean, not soiled with dirt either symbolically or literally. It is a symbol of the positive elements of the United States.

Only fly the flag during the day, unless you have a spotlight to keep on it. The flag should be visible or it shouldn't be flying. If you have one on the outside of your house, a small outdoor light will suffice, as long as there is enough light to make the flag out clearly.

A flag should be folded so that one can only see the stars when done. Here's a drawing of how to fold the flag.

1. Fold the flag in half, twice, lengthwise.  
Fold so that the stars are exposed on BOTH sides 
of the flag when it is folded into fourths.

before:   |----------------|  after |----------------|
          |******          |        |******          |
          |******          |        |----------------|
          |                |
          |                |
          |----------------|

2. Fold the flag into a triangle shape, 
like so, starting at the end OPPOSITE the stars.

 |------------------------------------------------|  Fold 1 onto 2...
 |***********************            \ 5|4 / | \ 1|   then 2 onto 3...
 |***********************             \ | /3 |2 \ |    then 3 onto 4...
 |------------------------------------------------|     then 4 onto 5...
                                                         and repeat!

3. You will wind up with a shape like this
with stars on both sides.  Tuck the rectangle 
leftover piece into the folds tightly, and you're done!

           /|--|
          /*|  | fold this rectangular piece over...
         /**|  |  and tuck it in!
        /---|--|

If your flag is of proper size and you fold it using this technique, the long edge of the resulting triangle should have a row of stars along it.

When your flag shows signs of wear, replace it and destroy the old one properly. You destroy the flag by burning it in silence and then burying the ashes. I actually find using the ashes for a mulch pile is appropriate and a nice touch, because you use the flag remnants to bring about new life and new food.

These seven steps are very simple and take little effort to follow. They also go a great length to ensure that the flag of the nation that you are showing respect to is treated with the respect that it deserves.

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