Headbloom Blog

Flag Etiquette

As many of my international friends observe, Americans are more patriotic than citizens of most countries. They note that in many countries around the world, flags are only flown on government buildings and are not for sale on a retail basis. However, American flags are widely displayed on houses and cars, are sold in groceries and hardware stores, and are passed out (in miniature) at parades and rallies. One South American observed that Americans seemed exceptionally “proud” of their country, to a degree not witnessed back home. The flag is saluted at the beginning of most sporting events while the national anthem is sung. I usually fly our flag (see photo below) on three dates: Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day.

Nicknames for the American flag include “The Stars and Stripes” and “Old Glory.” If you would like to test your knowledge about Flag Day, go here for a 5-point quiz.

Rules of Etiquette When Americans handle or display their flags, there are a number of guidelines they should be aware of. Here are a few of them:
1. If a flag is left outside to fly at night, it should be illuminated.
2. The flag should never touch the ground.
3. If it is displayed with another international flag, it may not be lower than the other flag.
4. An old or torn flag should be taken off the flagpole and disposed of by burning.
5. The union (blue square with white stars) should be positioned in the upper left-hand corner when hung (either horizontally or vertically).
6. When the flag is being hoisted publicly up the flagpole, observers should remove their hats.
7. If the flag is to be stored, it should be folded in half along the horizontal axis (the long way) twice, then into a triangular pattern from one end to the other.


For more information on proper care and treatment of the U.S. flag, go here or here.

Notes on controversy: These rules of etiquette are maintained by various veterans and patriot organizations. However, these are codes but not national laws. From time to time, members of Congress have tried to introduce national legislation banning the burning (or other destruction) of the U.S. flag as a means of political protest, but these attempts have been defeated by civil liberties groups on the grounds that the Constitution’s First Amendment—which allows freedom of speech—protects an individual’s rights in this regard. Flag desecration is discussed here by the American Civil Liberties Union. This is one point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in the 1995 film, The American President, a comedy/drama starring Annette Benning and Michael Douglas.

Merriam-Webster’s online Word of the Day on June 14, 2010 is vexillology n. the study of flags.

Alan Headbloom