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As commander of the Mad River American Legion Post 75, I often receive questions as to how the American flag should be displayed. Confusion frequently occurs because the U.S. Flag Code has changed. (Title 4, U.S. Code Chapter 1.) Also, the military has adopted specific regulations as to how the U.S. flag should be displayed, and that too has changed with time.
Following are FAQ and the “Top Ten Flag Myths” as published by the American Legion. The American Legion website is an excellent source of information concerning U.S. flag etiquette. www.legion.org/flag.
The Mad River American Legion Post has two drop-off points for unserviceable flags: the Village Grocery and Kenyon's Variety Store. With the assistance of the Mad River Boy Scouts, these flags are retired with a dignified and solemn ceremony.
I trust that you will find the following informative and helpful. If Mad River Post #75 can be of assistance to you by answering your questions or with veteran's assistance, please contact me.
FLAG DISPLAY FAQ
Can the U.S. flag be displayed in inclement weather?
The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, with the exception of an all-weather (nylon or other non-absorbent material) flag. However, most flags are made of all-weather materials.
What is the significance of displaying the flag at half-staff?
This gesture is a sign to indicate the nation mourns the death of an individual(s), such as death of the president or former president, vice president, Supreme Court justice, member of Congress, secretary of an executive or military department, etc. Only the president or a state governor may order the flag to be displayed at half-staff. The honor and reverence accorded this solemn act is quickly becoming eroded by those individuals and agencies that display the flag at half-staff on inappropriate occasions without proper authority to do so.
When the flag is not flown from a staff, how should it be displayed?
It should be displayed vertically, whether indoors or out, and suspended so that its folds fall free as though the flag were staffed. The stripes may be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, and the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right (that is, to the observer's left). When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the flag should be displayed in the same way (that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street).
How are unserviceable flags destroyed?
The Flag Code suggests that when a flag has served its useful purpose, "it should be destroyed, preferably by burning." For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration. Many American Legion posts conduct disposal of unserviceable flag ceremonies on June 14, Flag Day. Such ceremonies are particularly dignified and solemn occasions for the retirement of unserviceable flags.
Can the flag be washed or dry cleaned?
Yes. No provisions of the Flag Code prohibit such care. The decision to wash or dry clean would depend on the material.
Are you required to destroy the flag if it touches the ground?
The Flag Code states that the flag should not touch anything beneath it, including the ground. This is stated to indicate that care should be exercised in the handling of the flag, to protect it from becoming soiled or damaged. You are not required to destroy the flag when this happens. As long as the flag remains suitable for display, even if washing or dry cleaning is required, you may continue to display the flag as a symbol of our great country.
What is the proper method for folding the flag?
The Flag Code does not require any specific method. However, a tradition of folding has developed over time that produces a triangular-shaped form, like that of a three-corner hat with only the blue union showing.
May a person, other than a veteran, have his or her casket draped with the flag of the United States?
Yes. Although this honor is usually reserved for veterans or highly regarded state and national figures, the Flag Code does not prohibit this use.
What is the significance of the gold fringe seen on some U.S. flags?
Records indicate that fringe was first used on the flag as early as 1835. It was not until 1895 when it was officially added to the national flag for all Army regiments. For civilian use, fringe is not required as an integral part of the flag nor can its use be said to constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statute. Fringe is used as an honorable enrichment only.
What is meant by the flag's own right?
The "right" as the position of honor developed from the time when the right hand was the "weapon hand" or "point of danger." The right hand, raised without a weapon, was a sign of peace. The right hand, to any observer, is the observer's left. Therefore, as used in the Flag Code, the flag and/or blue field is displayed to the observer's left, which is the flag's "own right."
Is it proper to fly the U.S. flag at night?
The Flag Code states it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. The American Legion interprets "proper illumination" as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.
What should be the position of the flag when displayed from a staff in a church, public auditorium or other public meeting place, whether indoors or outdoors, on platform, or on the floor at ground level?
When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church, public auditorium or meeting place, the flag should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Prior to the Flag Code changes in 1976, the display procedure was somewhat different. Now, the staffed flag should always be placed to the right of the speaker (observer's left) without regard to a platform or floor level.
Can a flag that has covered a casket be displayed after its original use?
There are no provisions in the Flag Code to suggest otherwise. It would be a fitting tribute to the memory of the deceased veteran and his or her service to a grateful nation if the casket flag is displayed.
What are the penalties for the physical desecration of the flag?
There are currently no penalties for the physical desecration of the flag. The American Legion and other members of the Citizens Flag Alliance continue working toward securing a constitutional amendment to protect the flag from physical desecration.
TOP TEN FLAG MYTHS
The Flag Code is the American Legion Flag Code.
On Flag Day, June 14, 1923, The American Legion and representatives of 68 other patriotic, fraternal, civic and military organizations met in Washington, DC, for the purpose of drafting a code of flag etiquette. The 77th Congress adopted this codification of rules as public law on June 22, 1942. It is Title 4, United States Code Chapter 1.
A flag that has been used to cover a casket cannot be used for any other proper display purpose.
A flag that has been used to cover a casket can be used for any proper display purpose to include displaying this flag from a staff or flagpole.
The Flag Code prohibits the display of a United States flag of less than 50 stars.
According to the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry the United States flag never becomes obsolete. Any officially approved American flag, irrespective of the number or arrangement of the stars and/or stripes, may continue to be used and displayed until no longer serviceable.
The Flag Code does provide for penalties for violations of any of its provisions.
The Flag Code is simply a guideline for proper flag etiquette. The law does not provide penalties for violation of any of its provisions.
You must destroy the flag when it touches the ground.
As long as the flag remains suitable for display, the flag may continue to be displayed as a symbol of our great country.
The Flag Code prohibits the washing or dry cleaning of the flag.
There are no provisions of the Flag Code that prohibit the washing or dry cleaning of the flag. The decision to wash or dry clean would of course depend upon the type of material.
There has been a change to the Flag Code that no longer requires the flag to be properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
There has been NO CHANGE to Flag Code section 6(a), which states: "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."
The mayor, a town official, or the post commander can order the flag to be displayed at half-staff.
The gesture of placing the flag at half-staff means that the nation or the state mourns the death of a highly regarded national or state figure, hence only the president of the United States or the governor of the state may order the flag to be half-staffed in accordance with Flag Code section 7(m). Those individuals and agencies that usurp authority and display the flag at half-staff on inappropriate occasions are quickly eroding the honor and reverence accorded this solemn act.
The Flag Code states that when the flag is no longer a fitting emblem for display it is to be disposed of by burning in private.
The Flag Code as revised and adopted by the Congress of the United States in 1942 has never included the word(s) "private" or "in privacy." Section 8(k) of the Flag Code states: "The flag, when it is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." Since 1937, The American Legion has promoted the use of a public flag disposal ceremony. This ceremony is a fitting tribute and an overt expression of patriotism, which enhances the public's understanding of honor and respect due the American flag.
The Flag Code prohibits the "fringing" of the flag.
Fringing of the flag is neither approved of nor prohibited by the Flag Code. The American Legion considers that fringe is used as an honorable enrichment to the flag. Additionally the courts have deemed without merit and frivolous, lawsuits that contend that the gold fringe adorning the flag conferred admiralty/maritime jurisdiction.
If Mad River Post #75 can be of assistance to you by answering your questions or with veteran's assistance, please contact me.
Fred R. Messer lives in Waitsfield.