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United States Flag Protocol

History of the "Flag Code"

Provisions for the proper display of the American flag are detailed in the United States Code, which is a "compilation of the Federal laws of a general and permanent nature that are currently in force." The US Code is made available online by the United States House of Representatives. Title 4 of the US Code details regulations concerning the flag and seal of the United States, as well as the seat of government and the states. The Flag Code is intended to be used as a guideline for the proper display of the flag. Failure to comply with the code does not incur any civil or criminal penalties.
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Dates to Display Flag

Title 4, Section 6 of the US Code specifies when, where and in what manner the flag should be displayed. It is recommended that public institutions display the American flag every day, "on or near the main administration building." The flag should also be flown at polling places on election days. Dates when it is of particular importance that the flag be flown are as follows:

January 1st - New Year's Day
20th - Inauguration Day (in appropriate years)
3rd Monday - Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 3rd Monday - President's Day/Washington's birthday
12th - Lincoln's birthday
March/April Easter Sunday (varies each year)
May 2nd Sunday - Mother's Day
3rd Saturday - Armed Forces Day
Last Monday - Memorial Day
June 14th - Flag Day
July 4th - Independence Day
August no dates
September 1st Monday - Labor Day
17th - Constitution Day
October 2nd Monday - Columbus Day
27th - Navy Day
November 11th - Veteran's Day
16th - Anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood
4th Thursday - Thanksgiving Day
December 25th - Christmas Day

How to Appropriately Display the Flag

Sections 5, 6 and 7 of Title 4 of the U.S. Code deal with proper display of the flag by civilians and government institutions.

Normally, the flag is only intended for display between sunrise and sunset. However, the flag may be displayed 24 hours per day, so long as the flag is properly illuminated at night. During times of inclement weather, the flag should be lowered, unless it is approved for all-weather use.

The flag should always be raised "briskly" and lowered "ceremoniously". On days when the flag is to be flown at half-staff, it is to be raised briskly to full-staff, then lowered slowly back down to half-staff. Before the flag is removed at the end of the day, it should be raised to full-staff once more before being taken down.

If the flag is to be displayed in a series with other flags, (for example, along with a state and/or company flag), there is a specific sequence in which they should be displayed. In instances where there are three flag poles of equal height, then the US flag should be displayed on the pole that is furthest to the viewer's left, as the viewer faces the front of the building in front of which the flags are displayed. The middle pole should display the state flag, and the third pole should display the company or organization flag. If one would like to display a US flag, a state flag, and a POW/MIA flag on three poles of equal height, then the US flag is displayed on the left-most pole, the POW/MIA flag is displayed on the center pole, and the state flag is displayed on the right-most pole. If there are only two flag poles, then the US flag and the state flag should be displayed together on the left-most pole, with the US flag above the state flag. The company or organization flag should be displayed, alone, on the second pole. If there are three flag poles, with the center pole being the highest, then the US flag should be displayed on the center pole. The state flag should be displayed to the left of the US flag, and the company or organization flag should be displayed to the right.

When to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff

For the purpose of displaying the flag, the term "half-staff" refers to displaying the flag at a distance half-way in between the top and bottom of the staff.

The flag is normally flown at half-staff on Memorial Day and Peace Officers' Memorial Day, unless the latter occurs simultaneously with Armed Forces Day. Other times when the flag is to be displayed at half-staff are determined by order of the President or Governor of a State. These may include the death of principal figures of the US Government, as well as in the event of the death of foreign officials and dignitaries. In the event of the death of a President or former President, the flag should be displayed at half-staff for 30 days afterwards. In the event of the death of the Vice President, a former Vice President, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or former Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the flag should be flown at half-mast for 10 days afterwards. In the event of the death of the Governor of a State, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the Secretary of a military department, or a Member of Congress, the flag should be flown at half-staff on the day of their death and for one day afterwards.

In the event of the death of a city employee or other city official, it is permitted to fly the city flag at half-staff, but the not the US flag.

How to Fold the Flag

The following instructions and diagrams are taken from the website USFlag.org.

Step 1

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 1

To properly fold the Flag, begin by holding it waist-high with another person so that its surface is parallel to the ground.

Step 2

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 2

Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars, holding the bottom and top edges securely.

Step 3

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 3

Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.

Step 4

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 4

Make a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open (top) edge of the flag.

Step 5

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 5

Turn the outer (end) point inward, parallel to the open edge, to form a second triangle.

Step 6

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 6

The triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in this manner.

Step 7

Proper Protocol for folding the US Flag - Step 7

When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible.

Flag Folding Ceremony

There is a ceremony that United States Uniformed Services perform in association with lowering and folding the flag on special occasions, such as Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. The following script is taken from the American Legion website and is typically read during the ceremony as the flag is folded.

Meaning of Flag Folding Program
The flag folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our great country was originally founded.

The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing states our veterans served in uniform. The canton field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted only when draped as a pall on the casket of a veteran who has served our country honorably in uniform.

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat, the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation's honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.

Symbols for the folds of the Flag

The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance.

The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong."

The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.

The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.

The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.

The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance, of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today."

It should be noted that the flag folding ceremony is to be conducted by an Honor Guard.

Saluting the Flag

As the US Code now states, only military personnel and veterans in uniform may salute the flag as it is being raised or lowered. Citizens and military personnel out of uniform are to stand and place their right hand over their heart. Last summer, Senator Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a bill (S. 1877) to the Senate to amend Title 4 of the US Code so that military personnel and veterans out of uniform may salute the flag. As of June 10, 2008, the bill has passed the Senate without amendment and is waiting to be discussed and voted on by the House of Representatives.