Plenty of holidays (the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and more) might inspire you to hang a flag around the home. Only watch out: There are laws—yes, laws—on how to hang the U.S. flag, all outlined in the official United States Code governing respect for the flag.
“A lot of people don’t realize that there are public laws pertaining to displaying the flag,” says Michael Buss, deputy director of the Americanism Division of the American Legion. Some flag-hanging rules you may already be aware of (e.g., never let a flag touch the floor), but many others may come as a surprise. As proof, just check out the photos below showing the American flag displayed by well-meaning people in ways that, technically speaking, aren’t up to code. To be clear, we aren’t here to shame anyone, and violators are in no danger of being arrested or fined; we’re just letting you know that these could be seen as disrespectful or ignorant by those in the know. Cool? OK, then, let’s all learn something!
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Mistake No. 1: Don’t display the stars on the wrong side
One big flag faux pas that people miss is that in displaying the flag from a wall or window, the Union (the blue field with stars) should be on the observer’s left side. So the display in the photo below should be flipped, with the stars on the left side.
Another no-no in the photo below: Never let anything (in this case, the bed’s headboard) block the flag.
Mistake No. 2: Don’t use the flag as a tablecloth
A flag should never be draped over anything but a casket.
Mistake No. 3: Don’t sit on a flag
These cushions are adorbs, but technically, they violate the spirit of the Code, which states, “[The flag] 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.” The idea that a person might lean against (or worse, sit upon) the flag is disrespectful.
Mistake No. 4: Don’t use flags as napkins
So maybe rethink using napkins printed with the American flag. Don’t tread on me, cocktail!
Mistake No. 5: Don’t use the flag as a bib
Sir! No. Just … no.
Mistake No. 6: Don’t display the flag in inclement weather
A soggy flag in the rain is bad enough. But when it freezes over? We hear Betsy Ross rolling over in her grave. If you’re not going to be home all day, take a look at the weather report to make sure your flag isn’t going to get hit with rain, sleet or snow. Also, as a general rule, raise the flag at sunrise and lower it at sunset. That way, it won’t run the risk of freezing overnight.
Mistake No. 7: Never fly your flag below another one
Likewise, the Code specifies that no other flag should be flown on the same staff used to display the American flag. However, people do it all the time, everywhere, so this rule has largely been thrown out the window. “We have no problem with that,” says Buss.
Just make sure you’re not displaying that other flag above the Stars and Stripes. Likewise, when you’re displaying the American flag with other flags on their own staffs, the American should be on the right or, if there are more than two flags, in the center.
Mistake No. 8: Don’t write on the flag
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and nope: When The Beatles signed this flag, they probably didn’t know it violated the Code. It’s a pretty common mistake, Buss says. Foreign exchange students will often have an American flag signed by their classmates, but “That’s not proper.” You should never write directly on the flag.
Mistake No. 9: Don’t dress up in a flag
Time to talk about wearing the flag. You may wear a flag costume as long as it’s not made from an actual flag. As long as this costume is made from fabric printed to resemble a flag it should be OK-ish.
Same goes for your house pets, people. Here’s hoping Fido’s costume was not a real flag retrofitted for this little guy here.
Mistake No. 10: Don’t dump a flag in the trash
For heaven’s sake, just don’t do this. So what should you do? The Code states, “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.”
That’s right, flag-burning is OK! As long as it’s done respectfully, meaning you salute it or recite the Pledge of Allegiance while it’s burning, then bury it.
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