Wednesday is Flag Day; Do you know its etiquette?


When it comes to the American flag, some things immediately stand out. The flag should be flown with the blue field (the union) at the top. During the Star Spangled Banner or Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, people should place their right hands over their hearts.

But when it comes to the symbol of this country, there's much more information that the average citizen may not know or have opportunity to utilize.

For example, the American 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.

Ken Stuart, a founding member of Elks Lodge 2500 in Rio Rancho, said that often the flag code and etiquette are confusing.

"Everybody interprets it in their own way," he said.

Misinterpretations of the flag code, however, can often be seen as disrespect to the flag.

"It's better you don't fly the flag at all," New Mexico Honor Guard Commander Don Taylor said. "Disrespecting the flag accomplishes nothing."

Taylor recalled the sacrifices of American men and women for their country.

"That flag is flying because thousands have lost their lives to protect it," he said. "The flag doesn't fly for nothing."

To honor Old Glory, Congress enacted the flag code, which was adopted by the Nation Flag Conference on June 14-15, 1923. Though it has been revised many times, most recently in 1994, the essence of the code remains the same.

There are 17 dates that Congress has specifically said the flag should be flown: New Year's Day, Inauguration Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Easter Sunday, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Constitution Day, Columbus Day, Navy Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon, when it should be raised completely.

In addition, the Stars and Stripes should be displayed on any day that is proclaimed by the President, on state birthdays and on state holidays.

When two flags are flown together, the American flag should always be displayed on the viewer's left. Both flags should be at the same height.

If many flags are displayed, the American flag should be at the center and rise above the others. When the American flag is flown with one or more flags of other countries, all flags must be about the same size and flown at the same height. According to the code, "International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

If the flag is hung from a rope connecting a building to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, whether hung vertically or horizontally, the union should be closest to the pole.

Generally, the items in the flag code are regarded as ways to respect the flag, but some have chosen to break the code, an action that once carried legal ramifications.

The code for desecration of the flag reads, "Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both."

The Supreme Court, however, declared that law unconstitutional May 14, 1990.

Upset by what he deems as disrespect for the flag and country, Taylor wants to see action in Washington, DC.

"The flag etiquette is meaningless at this stage because of what Congress has failed to do," he said.

Taylor wants Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag.

Stuart, however, thinks the problem is with the American people, not Congress.

"A lot of people aren't proud of the flag anymore," he said. "I don't know why."

The Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia approved the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777.

"Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation," the resolution read.

Because the resolution was not specific about the layout of the stars, many designs were produced. Some had the stars in lines, others scattered, and still more in a circle. The stars themselves also varied, often between having six points and eight points.

Many people made flags during the Revolutionary War, though it is Betsy Ross who has gained the most notoriety, according to the Web site, In fact, there is little evidence regarding who created the first flag. Claims about Ross were first brought before the public in 1870 by one of her grandsons, which he based on oral history passed down by Ross.

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