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Flag Etiquette and the Law: How to Respect Old Glory This Independence Day

Town Law Publishing July 3, 2023

7As we approach another Independence Day, the familiar sight of the Stars and Stripes flying proudly from homes, businesses, and public buildings across the nation evokes a sense of patriotism and pride. The American flag is more than just a piece of cloth; it's a symbol of our nation's history, ideals, and unity. But did you know that there are specific rules, both traditional and legal, about how to display and handle the flag?

The United States Flag Code, first established in 1923 and codified by Congress in 1942, provides a detailed guide on how the flag should be treated. It's important to note that while the Flag Code is federal law, it doesn't provide penalties for non-compliance; it's more of a guide for voluntary civilian compliance. Nonetheless, it's regarded as a mark of respect to follow these guidelines. Here are some key points from the Flag Code to help you honor Old Glory appropriately this Fourth of July:

1. Displaying the Flag

The flag can be displayed every day, but it's particularly pertinent to do so on federal holidays, especially on Independence Day. When flown at night, the flag should be properly illuminated. During inclement weather, an all-weather flag can be used.

2. Positioning the Flag

When the flag is displayed against a wall or on a window, the union (blue field with stars) should be at the top left when viewed from the street. If the flag is flown on a pole, the union should be at the peak.

7-43. Respect for the Flag

The flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor should it ever touch anything beneath it—ground, floor, water, or merchandise. It's also considered disrespectful to use the flag for advertising purposes or to print it on disposable items like napkins or boxes.

4. Flag at Half-Staff

The flag is flown at half-staff to show respect or mourning. Only the President or a state Governor can order the flag to be flown at half-staff. On Memorial Day, the flag is flown at half-staff until noon, then raised to full staff until sunset.

5. Disposing of the Flag

When the flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be disposed of by burning it in a dignified manner. Many American Legion posts conduct flag retirement ceremonies, especially on Flag Day, June 14th.

Beyond the Flag Code, it's also important to note that the First Amendment protects the right to express one's views, including acts of desecration on the flag. The Supreme Court affirmed this in the landmark 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, asserting that flag burning constitutes symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

However, this doesn't mean that all actions with the flag are protected under the law. For example, certain states have laws against using the flag for commercial or political advertising. While these laws are seldom enforced, it's worth being aware of them.

7-4-23As we celebrate this Independence Day, let's remember the significance of our flag and treat it with the respect and honor it deserves. By understanding and following the Flag Code, we can demonstrate our patriotism in a way that is both meaningful and legally respectful. So as you fly the Stars and Stripes this Fourth of July, take a moment to reflect on what it represents – the unity, diversity, and shared values of this great nation. Happy Independence Day!