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.