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Frequently asked questions: Flag Etiquette

Each year, the country observes Flag Day on June 14, the anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes as America's flag. As we honor the flag, keep in mind the protocol for properly displaying Old Glory.

Is there a law dictating flag protocol?

For nearly 50 years after Congress authorized the U.S. flag design, there was no uniform set of rules for displaying and showing respect for the flag. To develop a guide, a National Flag Conference was held in Washington, DC, on Flag Day, June 14, 1923. Representatives from 68 organizations met and drew up a flag code. Congress adopted it in 1942 making the flag code law. Congress amended the resolution in 1976 and enacted it as Public Law 94-344, commonly called the Flag Code.

According to the Code, "The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. The flag should be displayed daily, weather permitting, on or near the main administration building of every public institution. The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days."

Can you fly the flag at night?

While it is customary to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated. According to a 2009 report from Congressional Research Service, "It would seem that display of the flag in a respectful manner with appropriate lighting does not violate the spirit of the Flag Code since the dignity accorded to the flag is preserved by lighting that prevents its being enveloped in darkness."

How about flying the flag during a storm?

Because the flag should not be subject to weather damage, do not display it during rain, snow and windstorms unless it is an all-weather flag.

How do you display the flag indoors?

The flag is always given the place of honor. Position it to the right of the speaker or staging area. All other flags should be placed to the left. When displayed against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union (stars) should be at the top and to the observer's left.

What does half-staff mean?

The term "half-staff" means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. When flown at half-staff, hoist the flag to the peak for an instant then lower it to the half-staff position.

Likewise, raise the flag to the peak for an instant before lowering it for the day. On Memorial Day, fly the flag at half-staff until noon then raise it for the remainder of the day.

When should the flag be flown at half-staff?

  • May 15: Peace Officers Memorial Day
  • Last Monday in May: Memorial Day (half-staff until noon)
  • September 11: Patriot Day
  • Sunday, usually of week in which October 9 falls: Fire Prevention Week
  • December 7: National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
  • Upon reliable information that the current or former president, current vice president, current or former chief justice, or current speaker of the house has died

Who can order the flag to be flown at half-staff?

Only the president, governor and mayor of the District of Columbia can call for the flag to be flown at half-staff.

Does state law have provisions about flying the flag at half-staff beyond what the federal government requires?

According to S.C. Code 1-3-470, the governor will order flags on state buildings flown at half-staff on the day of burial or other service as a tribute for any firefighter or law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty. The governor will request flags over the buildings of all political subdivisions to do the same. Additionally, flags on top of the State House must be lowered to half-staff on the day when funeral services are conducted for members of the United States military services who were residents of South Carolina and who lost their lives in the line of duty while in combat.

Also flags atop state and local public buildings must be flown at half-staff until at least noon on POW/MIA Recognition Day (the third Friday in September) according to Section 53-3-165 of the SC Code of Laws.

The state Budget and Control Board provides email notification of half-staff observances.

If the flag touches the ground, does it have to be destroyed?

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should ever touch the ground or any other object. It should be received by waiting hands and arms then stored by folding it neatly and ceremoniously. If the flag does touch the ground, it does not need to be destroyed. Clean and mend the flag as necessary.

How do you properly dispose of the U.S. flag?

When the flag is so worn or soiled that it is no longer fit to serve as a national symbol, destroy it in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. Most sources suggest contacting a local veterans" group or Boy Scout troop. These groups hold ceremonies to dispose of flags.

Information taken in part from USFlag.org