Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. While the federal code contains no penalties for misusing the flag, states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. The language of the federal code makes clear that the flag is a living symbol.
In response to a Supreme Court decision which held that a state law prohibiting flag burning was unconstitutional, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989. It provides that anyone who knowingly desecrates the flag may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. However, this law was challenged by the Supreme Court in a 1990 decision that the Flag Protection Act violates the First Amendment free speech protections. Access the U.S. Flag Code Guide.
Guidelines for Display of the Flag
Important Things to Remember
Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it’s illuminated during darkness. The flag should not be subject to weather damage, so it should not be displayed during rain, snow and wind storms unless it is an all-weather flag.
It should be displayed often, but especially on national and state holidays and special occasions.
The flag should be displayed on or near the main building of public institutions, schools during school days, and polling places on election days. It should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
Flags are flown at half staff (or half mast) to honor and mourn the loss of a deceased person. The term half staff refers to a the display of a flag at the half-way point of a flagpole on land, while half mast, refers to the display of a flag at the half-way point of a mast for nautical applications on ships.
The United States Flag, specifically, is displayed at half staff to signify that the country as a whole is in mourning. These special mourning periods are determined by the order of the US President for national memorials, and can also be ordered by the governor of a state, territory, or possession who can direct the U.S. flag to be flown at half staff within their jurisdiction to memorialize an important citizen to their area. When the US President orders the flag to be displayed at half mast, the direction is carried out at all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government including abroad at US embassies, government facilities, military facilities, and military vessels.
Leaders of specific government agencies and departments of the U.S. government can also direct the U.S. flag to be flown at half staff on ships, buildings, and grounds within their authority. The duration varies from a few days (usually until sunset on the day of the burial) to 30 days, according to the deceased person's position.
On March 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation, outlining a set of standard guidelines which outline rules for the proper occasions that the US Flag should be displayed at half staff, which are listed below:
The protocol was further expanded in 1969 to include more circumstances where the flag should or could be flown at half mast:
In addition to the circumstances outlined above, there are four US Flag holidays each year, when the American Flag should be displayed at half staff.
The proper protocol for displaying a flag at half staff is to briskly raise the flag to the top of the staff before lowering it slowly and ceremoniously to the half-staff position. Although there are no laws governing the half-staffing of flags at private homes, grounds, organizations, and vessels, most citizens follow the flag display customs used by the US federal government.
It is proper etiquette to display the American Flag from sunrise to sunset. In the event that one chooses to display the US flag 24 hours a day, the flag should be illuminated during the night.
Some yacht clubs fly their organization's burgee at half-mast to honor and mourn the death of a club member. Likewise, a private signal flag may be flown at half-mast upon the death of the vessel's owner.
The proper position for a half-mast flag is about one quarter of the way down from the top. If the flagpole has a yardarm, the flag should be raised to the position of the yardarm. When the U.S. flag is displayed at half-mast on a vessel, other flags must remain at their standard position.
The name "Old Glory" was first applied to the U.S. flag by a young sea captain who lived in Salem, Mass. On his 21st birthday, March 17, 1824, Capt. William Driver was presented a beautiful flag by his mother and a group of Salem girls. Driver was delighted with the gift and named the flag "Old Glory." Old Glory accompanied the captain on his many sea voyages. In 1837 he quit sailing and settled in Nashville. On patriotic days he displayed Old Glory proudly from a rope extending from his house to a tree across the street.
After Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Captain Driver hid Old Glory, sewing it inside a comforter. When the Union soldiers entered Nashville on February 25, 1862, Driver removed Old Glory from its hiding place. He carried the flag to the capitol building and raised it above the state capitol. Shortly before his death, the old sea captain placed a small bundle into the arms of his daughter. He said to her: "Mary Jane, this is my ship's flag, Old Glory. It has been my constant companion. I love it as a mother loves her child. Cherish it as I have cherished it."
The flag remained as a precious heirloom in the Driver family until 1922. It was then sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where it is carefully preserved under glass.
Who designed the original "Stars and Stripes" flag of the United States is a point never definitely confirmed. Was it Betsy Ross, expert Philadelphia seamstress, or New Jersey's Congressman Francis Hopkinson?
The traditional story that Betsy Ross designed the original flag in 1776 has caught the popular fancy but no official record substantiates the story. Some historians claim that in June 1776, Gen. George Washington, Robert Morris and Betsy's uncle, George Ross, went to her Philadelphia upholstery shop. The men told her they were members of a congressional committee. They showed her a rough design of a stars and stripes flag and asked her if she would make the emblem. She said yes and recommended making the stars five-pointed instead of six. The change was approved.
George Washington drew another design, and Betsy Ross sewed the emblem. On June 14, 1777, Congress adopted it as the official U.S. flag. That is the Betsy Ross story as it is related. However, some sources claim there is no official record of a congressional flag committee. The only documented evidence naming Mrs. Ross is said to be a voucher dated May 29, 1777, showing that she was paid 14 pounds and some shillings for flags she made for the Pennsylvania Navy.
Note: Recent historic research indicates Francis Hopkinson, a consultant to the Second Continental Congress is responsible for designing the original Stars and Stripes.
Our National Anthem
For more than a century the "Star Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, was sung as a popular patriotic air. From time to time Army and Navy leaders designated it as the national anthem for official occasions. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it the national anthem. Continuous lobbying by the Veterans of Foreign Wars led to Congress designating the song as the official national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.
Francis Scott Key practiced law in Baltimore during the War of 1812. In 1814 one of Key's friends, Dr. Beanes, was held prisoner by the British aboard the ship Minden in Baltimore harbor. Key decided he would try to obtain his friend's release. Carrying a flag of truce and a letter from President James Madison, Key rowed out to the ship. His request for the friend's freedom was granted, but both men were detained onboard because the British were about to bombard Fort McHenry.
During the bombardment, Key watched the Stars and Stripes flying over the fort. Darkness fell, and he no longer could see the flag. But the fort kept on firing back at the British, so Key knew the American stronghold had not surrendered.
When daylight returned Key was overjoyed to see that "the flag was still there." Taking an old envelope from his pocket he wrote the stirring opening words," O say, can you see by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?"
After he returned ashore, Key completed the verse, which was later published in the Baltimore American, September 21, 1814. It became popular immediately. Later the words were set to the English "Anacreon in Heaven," which is the tune we sing today.
Fold the lower striped section of the flag over the blue field.
Folded edge is then folded over to meet the open edge.
A triangular fold is then started by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to the open edge.
Outer point is then turned inward parallel with the open edge to form a second triangle.
Triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in the triangular shape with only the blue field visible.
1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
3. Place the flag on the fire.
4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.
The POW/MIA flag features a silhouette of a POW before a guard tower and barbed wire in white on a black field. "POW/MIA” appears above the silhouette and the words "You Are Not Forgotten” appear below in white on the black field. This black and white flag stands as a stark reminder of Americans still prisoner, missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and is now accepted nationally and internationally as the symbol of vigilance and remembrance for all POW and MIA’s.
Order of Precedence in the Display of the POW/MIA Flag
All flags flying on the same pole with the U.S. flag will be subordinate to the U.S. flag. The question frequently arises about what flag (POW/MIA, state, organization, etc.) has precedence to be flown directly beneath the U.S. flag and above any other flag. There is no definitive answer or protocol established in writing or codified in law. It is VFW protocol, since the POW/MIA flag is considered a federal banner, that the POW/MIA flag has precedence over all other flags flying on the same pole beneath the U.S. flag. In a line of march, the POW/MIA flag is carried to the immediate left of the U.S. flag. The VFW views the POW/MIA issue as a matter of national importance first, thereby giving the POW/MIA flag a position of prominence.
For the full protocol for displaying the POW/MIA Flag, visit the National League of POW/MIA Families website.