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Independence Day: Proper respect for US flag

The U.S. flag flies in a position of honor outside Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by James Arrowood.
The U.S. flag flies in a position of honor outside Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by James Arrowood.

This Wednesday, July 4, Americans will gather together to celebrate Independence Day, a federal holiday that commemorates the forming of the United States of America through the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Traditionally, revelers will spend the day participating in backyard barbeques, going boating, spending time at the beach, marveling at fireworks displays and wearing red, white and blue clothing and accessories.

While decorating your home and celebration spaces and partying in patriotic attire may be fun, it’s important to ensure that you are properly displaying the U.S. flag in a respectful manner while also enjoying the festivities.

The rules for handling and exhibiting the American flag are outlined by the U.S. Flag Code. United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1 provides guidelines for rendering proper courtesies to the flag, including how to hang the flag, when to display it at half-staff, how and when to render hand salutes and how to honor the flag during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” among others.

Of interest during patriotic holidays, such as Fourth of July, are rules regarding respect for the flag. The Code states “no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America” and goes on to provide the following instructions:

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, the water, or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Appropriately displaying and handling the U.S. flag, not just on holidays but on all days, honors the emblem of the United States of America. Learn more about the U.S. Flag Code and the American flag here and here.

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