Flag Etiquette

Patriotism is the principle of the Fourth Degree, and nowhere greater expressed than in the proper treatment of and respect for the Flag of the United States.  Many traditions, and laws found in Title 4 of the United States Code and elsewhere, govern the use of the Flag, summarized in the Fourth Degree Flag Manual #4686 and this report from the Congressional Research Service.

A few observations:

  • The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “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.”, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.
  • The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on New Year’s Day, January 1; Inauguration Day, January 20; Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January; Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12; Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February; Easter Sunday (variable); Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May; Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May; at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then at full-staff until sundown, the last Monday in May; Flag Day, June 14; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, first Monday in September; Constitution Day, September 17; Columbus Day, second Monday in October; Navy Day, October 27; Veterans Day, November 11; Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November; Christmas Day, December 25; such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; and the birthdays of States (in Missouri, August 10).  A separate Federal law (36 USC §144) recommends that the flag be displayed on Patriots’ Day, September 11.
  • By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a state, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory.  In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any state, territory, or possession of the United States or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.  Current proclamation updates are published here.
  • There are eight sites in the United States where the flag is flown day and night under specific legal authority: Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland; Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland; the United States Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington, Virginia; Lexington, Massachusetts; the White House; the Washington Monument; United States Customs ports of entry; and Valley Forge State Park, Pennsylvania.  The reports that accompanied these official acts indicate that the specific authority was intended only as a form of tribute to certain historic sites rather than as exceptions to the general rule.
  • The law is silent on procedures for burning a flag. It would seem that any procedure which is in good taste and shows no disrespect to the flag would be appropriate. The Flag Protection Act of 1989, struck down albeit on grounds unrelated to this specific point, prohibited “knowingly” burning of a flag of the United States, but excepted from prohibition “any conduct consisting of disposal of a flag when it has become worn or soiled.
  • The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 prohibits a condominium, cooperative, or real estate management association from adopting or enforcing any policy or agreement that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag in accordance with the Federal Flag Code on residential property to which the member has a separate ownership interest.