Published on May 10, 2021 9:20:00 PM PDT May 10, 2021 9:20:00 PM PDTth, May 10, 2021 9:20:00 PM PDT
As children, we are taught to respect our elders – everyone from parents and grandparents to aunts, uncles, teachers and neighbors. Much like these all-important friends and family members, Americans have another 237-year-old elder in their midst that also commands honor and respect: the American flag. While nationwide respect for the American flag has been almost universal since its creation in 1777, those rules of respect were not recorded as law until 165 years later. In 1942, Congress adopted the U.S. Flag Code to provide guidance for both the handling and the display of the U.S. flag. Although penalties are not issued for failure to follow the U.S. Flag Code, it is widely recognized as the authority on U.S. flag etiquette. As prescribed by the U.S. Flag Code, here are 12 guidelines for honorably handling and displaying the American flag:
1. Keep It Straight and Tall
When the American flag is displayed from a hand-held pole and is carried (such as during a parade), the U.S. flag must be held straight up, or perpendicular to the ground, as a matter of respect. Regardless of who or what appears in front of the flag, it must never veer from its perpendicular stance. Accordingly, the U.S. Flag Code clarifies that “the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.”
2. This End Up
When displaying the U.S. flag, there is a right way and a wrong way to fly and hang the flag. Thankfully, the U.S. flag has an easily discernable top and bottom. When properly displayed, the American flag’s union (its blue field with its 50 white stars) should always appear at the top left of the flag. Flying the U.S. flag upside down (with its union on the bottom) is considered to be a distress signal, and the U.S. Flag Code says that it should only be used “in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”
3. Keep It Up High
Throughout our society, highly-valued items are often kept out of reach in an effort to protect them from soil, wear and/or damage. Likewise, as a testament to its worth, the U.S. Flag Code says that “the [American] flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.” Always position your U.S. flag display so that it is free and clear of the ground and any obstacles that might impede or damage it.
4. Flying High and Free, Like an Eagle
Just as the American flag must never be dipped toward a person or a thing, the U.S. Flag Code says that it must “never be carried flat or horizontally.” Instead, a U.S. flag that is displayed from a hand-held pole should mirror the stance of a mighty oak tree and be held straight and tall. In addition, a hand-held U.S. flag must never be confined or restrained from waving. Rather, it should be allowed to fly freely, much like an eagle.
5. Thou Shalt Not Reuse, Repurpose or Recycle
In today’s society, we proudly conserve our natural resources by reusing, repurposing and recycling. While this American ingenuity is to be applauded for paper and plastic, the same does not hold true for the American flag. In fact, the U.S. Flag Code says that “the flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery.” Likewise, it adds that the American flag “should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.” In instances when patriotic décor is desired, the U.S. Flag Code prescribes “bunting of blue, white and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle and the red below.” The U.S. Flag Code even specifies the uses for this patriotic, tri-color bunting: “for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform and for decoration in general.”
6. To Protect and to Preserve
Much like an American flag should not be allowed to touch either the floor or the ground in order to protect it from wear or damage, so must usage and display of the American flag be intentional in safeguarding the flag from harm. The U.S. Flag Code clarifies that “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.” While the American flag is far from being fragile, the significance of this national symbol demands that it be handled with both the utmost care and the highest degree of protection.
7. No Sky-High Murals Allowed
Ever think of using the American flag as a ceiling covering or a ceiling decoration? The U.S. Flag Code says that the American flag should never be used “as a covering for a ceiling.” Sorry, modern-day Michelangelos, the U.S. flag may not be used as a sky-high, woven mural.
8. Dare to Deface a National Treasure? Don’t Even Think about It!
After presiding over the American people for more than two centuries, the U.S. flag has become a sacred, national treasure, one that is considered perfect in its present form and without need of would-be “improvement” or modification. For that reason, the U.S. Flag Code says that the American flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature.” With respect to the American flag, the U.S. Flag Code points us back to the time-honored reminder that “you can’t improve upon perfection.”
9. Leave Your Creativity at the Door
While America is known as the land of creativity and innovation, the U.S. Flag Code warns that the American flag should be excluded from creative repurposing, even if that creative usage is temporary in nature. Specifically, the U.S. Flag Code says that “the flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.” So, as difficult as it may be, we must abandon our impulses to creatively use or repurpose the American flag.
10. Maintaining an Ad-Free Zone
Although poet John Lyly pioneered the idea that everything is fair in love and war, the U.S. Flag Code offers a very different sentiment, especially in regard to combining the American flag with advertising messages. “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever,” mandates the U.S. Flag Code. “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.” These ad-specific flag rules remind us of the American flag’s intended permanence, integrity and sacredness and ask us to do all we can to maintain a strict, ad-free zone around the American flag.
11. Safeguarding a Perfect, Living Thing
While the American flag is composed of numerous design elements, those design elements come together to form a complete and a perfect whole. To preserve this iconic symbol of freedom and democracy, the American flag must never be desecrated by cutting it into pieces and parts. In fact, the U.S. Flag Code says that “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations.” Furthermore, the U.S. Flag Code explains that the American flag is considered to be a living thing that is representative of a living country. Just as we strive to safeguard the well-being of each living American citizen, so too must we strive to safeguard the well-being of the American flag.
12. An Honorable Discharge: When it All Goes Up in Flames
What should you do with an American flag that is well-worn and that has well-served its country and its people? The U.S. Flag Code says that “the flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Official burning of the U.S. flag is offered by The American Legion, VFW posts and even some Boy Scout Troops. Check with these organizations about their policies for honorably discharging an American flag from service. When doing so, be sure to share your flag’s fabric type, since polyester flags can produce toxic fumes when burned. Carrot-Top Industries also offers a Stars & Stripes Swap Program where you can purchase a new U.S. flag and send us your worn, old flag to be respectfully and properly disposed of per flag protocol.
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