Ready to hop into those American flag bikinis or trunks, grab a dog off the grill and enjoy a sunny July 4 at the pool?
Don’t you dare!
In these days of high sensitivity regarding all matters flag, when folks can boycott a company they’ve already boycotted over a decision not to release a line of shoes, it’s important you know all the rules and etiquette surrounding Old Glory.
For example, “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” Yup, that’s in the US Code, the collection of federal statutes governing the country.
In fact, those Betsy Ross Nikes weren’t exactly in line with flag decorum to begin with, not that anyone cared before Colin Kaepernick got involved.
Here’s a look at what the US Code says about the stars and stripes:
While it’s true that one man’s disrespect for the flag is another man’s protesting police violence against African-Americans, the US Code lays out specific examples of what it considers discourteous, including displaying a flag upside down (except during times of dire distress or danger), letting it touch the ground or water and carrying it flat or horizontally,
Also — bikini wearers and Nike execs, take note — it shouldn’t be used as apparel, bedding or drapery. Also, it’s gauche to use it as a costume or uniform. Whoops, America.
Being respectful also means never flying it in a manner where it could be soiled or damaged, using it to cover a ceiling (looking at you, American frat houses) or employing it as a receptacle to carry things.
Lastly, it should never be “festooned.” You can figure that out on your own. It’s just fun to say festooned.
This one car dealerships the nation over have ignored for years, but you can’t use the flag for any advertising purpose.
You specifically cannot display a flag bearing a “word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement.” You also cannot sell or give away merchandise “upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag.”
If you do it in Washington D.C., you could be fined $100 and thrown in jail for a month.
Then, there are few oddly pointed rules about printing or embroidering the flag on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes or anything you intend to throw away.
Odds and ends
A little calculus to consider, depending on when, where and how you’re flying the nation’s banner:
- The flag needs to be on the right in a procession. (That’s your left, if you’re facing it.)
- It shouldn’t be flown from a parade float unless it’s on a staff.
- It shouldn’t be draped over a car, train or boat. If you plant one on a car, it must be firmly affixed to the chassis or right fender.
- No other flag should be placed above or to the right of the US flag — unless you’re a sailor attending church at sea. But you’re not, are you?
- If a number of flags are on display, the American flag should be the tallest and in the middle. Center of attention, people.
- This one’s fun: If it’s hung over a street, the flag “should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.” Good luck. There’s a compass on your phone.
- When used on a speaker’s platform, it should be placed above, behind and to the speaker’s right.
- It should never be used to cover a statue or monument.
- If you use it to cover a casket, the stars should be over the deceased’s left shoulder. Don’t put the flag in the ground with the casket!
- There are some rules for flying flags at half-staff, but they’re long and convoluted and this story is about July 4, so let’s skip those. If you’re curious, you can check them out here.
But you can totally burn it
Aside from Texas v. Johnson, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag was protected speech, the US Code says burning is an honorable way to bid the flag a proper farewell:
“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.”
Some final housekeeping items
It’s customary to display the flag from sun up to sundown on a stationary flagpole. If you’re a super patriot and want to show her off 24-7, be sure to cast a light on her at night.
“The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously,” and if the weather is nasty, go ahead and keep “The Star-Spangled Banner” inside.
There are a host of holidays when flying an American flag is especially important, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and, of course, Independence Day. You can see the whole list here.
Also, polling places should fly flags on election days, schools should fly them when class is in session and public institutions should fly them daily.
The President can change the rules
No, this isn’t something President Donald Trump said. It’s actually in the Code.
But nobody is really enforcing this stuff
Despite the conclusions one might draw from tanks rolling through the nation’s capital on a nonmilitary holiday, there’s no flag Stasi coming to take you away for rocking your Old Glory swim trunks.
Aside from the aforementioned provision in Washington D.C., there are no other punishments proscribed in the US Code.
But if you love the flag, you might like to obey the rules.