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Guidelines for Display of

The United States Flag

It is the right of every American to proudly display the Flag of the United States at their home, their business, and elsewhere.  When you "SHOW YOUR COLORS" you tell the world that you are proud to live in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."   If you've been with us throughout the tour, you already know some of the proud history of the U.S. Flag.  It is a wonderful symbol of Freedom, but it is more than that.

"The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.

US Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, 176. ( j )

Every citizen should feel the freedom to proudly proclaim their patriotism by displaying their flag.  The Flag Code was written for this very purpose.  The branches of military service, as well as official government bodies, already had policies and procedures to guide "Flag Protocol".  Chapter 10 of Title 36 was written for the rest of us.   More than being a set of laws regulating how the flag should be respected, treated and displayed, it is a guarantee of the right of every United States citizen to fly the flag.


Q:  Why do we need laws to tell us how to display the flag?  Shouldn't every person have the right to display the flag however they wish, so long as it is done with proper respect?


That is a very good question, and I'd like to try and answer it for you.  It has to do with symbols that represent a thought or idea.   One example of a symbol is a WEDDING RING that a couple exchanges  when they get married.  That ring is a symbol of their unity, it tells the world that they are two people who have made commitments to each other.   Custom tells us that wedding rings are displayed a certain way...worn on the ring finger of the left hand...the hand closest to the heart.

Even if a ring doesn't LOOK like a wedding ring, if it is worn on the ring finger of the left hand most people recognize it as such because of the way it is displayed.  Similarly, a wedding ring worn on any other finger is generally not recognized as a wedding ring because of the way it is displayed.   Custom tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to wear a wedding ring to communicate the right message to others.  And the message is found in the way it is DISPLAYED to others.

This is why it is so important to understand the rules and customs explained in the Flag Code for properly displaying the flag.  A properly displayed flag tells the world that:

  • You are proud to be an American.
  • You care enough to learn how to display the flag properly.
  • You are showing the flag the respect it deserves.

The first three sections of the Flag Code explain how to show proper respect to the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We'll come back to them a little later in the tour.  But right now let's begin with some quick questions about when to display the flag, the answers to which can be found in 174 of the Flag Code.  (Remember that whenever you see the blue hyperlinked ###, you can click on it to read the actual words of the Flag Code without leaving this exhibit.)


Q:  Should the flag be taken down at night?

It is customary to fly the flag from buildings or staffs in open areas from "dawn to dusk".  The Flag Code ( 174 )  recognizes, however, that some people may wish to create a patriotic effect by displaying the flag from a building or outside staff (pole) 24 hours a day.  If such is the case it is proper to fly the flag both day and night, PROVIDED that the flag is properly lit up at night. 

It was the sight of the United States Flag flying through the night of September 14, 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem.  Similarly, various laws and Presidential proclamations have authorized the flying of flags around the clock for patriotic effect at several sites.   In once such proclamation President Richard Nixon stated:

"The flag of the United States should be one of the first things seen at our Customs ports of entry, both by American citizens returning from abroad and by travelers from other countries.  As the symbol of our country and our freedoms, the national colors of the United States provide a welcome greeting of warm promise.

Many people, however, enter our country at night when the flag is not flown, because of the nearly universal custom of displaying it only from sunrise to sunset.  I believe it is appropriate that returning citizens and visitors from other countries be welcomed by our flag whether they arrive at their ports of entry by day or night."

Presidential Proclamation No 4131, May 5, 1972

Over the years similar proclamations and public laws have also authorized the display of the United States flag 24 hours a day at:

  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (Baltimore, MD): 1948
  • Flag House Square (Baltimore, MD): 1954
  • United States Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial (Washington, D.C.): 1961
  • On the Green of the Town of Lexington, MA: 1965
  • The White House (Washington, D.C.): 1970
  • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.): 1971
  • United States Customs Ports of Entry: 1972
  • The Grounds of the National Memorial Arch (Valley Forge, PA): 1975

Q:  Is there a procedure for raising and lowering the flag from a staff?

Yes there is.  If you choose to fly the flag only from sunrise to sunset, the flag should be raised briskly (quickly and with effort) each morning, and lowered more slowly and ceremoniously at the end of the day.  ( 174 b).  If you are displaying the United States Flag with other flags (state flag, city flag, military flag, scout or other organizational flag), the United States Flag should be the FIRST flag raised every morning, and the LAST flag to be lowered at night ( 175 f).


Q:  Should the flag be taken inside when the weather is bad?

The 220+ year old Flag of the United States of America is quite "hardy for its age".  Throughout it's history it has survived many storms...natural and man-made...around the world.  You can purchase a flag designed for ALL WEATHER DISPLAY and fly it proudly day and night.  If, however, your flag is not manufactured for all weather use, bring it inside when the weather is bad.  Just as it is a sign of pride to display the flag, it is a sign of disrespect or neglect to subject the flag to weather that can damage it.  ( 174 c).


Q:  What day(s) should the flag be displayed?

EVERY DAY!  It is quite appropriate to fly the flag any and every day of the year.  The Flag Code (174d) does  outline certain days on which it is especially important and desirable to fly the flag:

  • New Year's Day (January 1st)
  • Inauguration Day (January 20th)
  • Lincoln's Birthday (February 12th)
  • Washington's Birthday (3rd Monday in February)
  • Easter Sunday (Varies in early Spring)
  • Mother's Day (2nd Sunday in May)
  • Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Flag Day (June 14th)
  • Independence Day (July 4th)
  • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (2nd Monday in October)
  • Navy Day (October 27th)
  • Veterans Day (November 11th)
  • Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25th)
  •   Other Days as proclaimed by the President of the United States
  • Birthdays of States (Based upon the date of admission to the Union)
  •   Various State holidays

Section 174 has some additional provisions that state that:

  • The flag should be displayed DAILY on or near the main administration building of every public institution.  
  • The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.  
  • The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.

( 174 e, f, g)


 

tourguide1_large.gif (3814 bytes) I hope that answers some of YOUR questions about the U.S. Flag.  Click on the "NEXT" button now to learn more about how we should treat and respect our flag.

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[Flag Day][About the US Code][The Flag Code][Time & Occasions for Flag Display]  
[Position and manner of Flag Display-Outdoors] [Position and manner of Flag Display-Indoors]
[Flying the Flag at Half-Staff][Burial Flags][Showing Respect for the Flag][Flag Ceremonies
[How to Fold the Flag][Obtaining  A Flag Flown over the Capitol][State Flags][Military Flags
[War Mother's Flag][MIA/POW Flag][Other Flags][Flag Specifics][Patriotic Holidays & Observancess ]
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History of the United States Flag

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