American Flag Etiquette

Whether you plan on owning or even handling one, knowing proper American flag etiquette is something you, as a citizen, are responsible for. Rooted in tradition dating back all the way to the Founding Fathers, American flag etiquette is to be followed fully one hundred percent of the time by everyone. And even if no one’s looking, showing your respect for the United States by handling its flag properly is always a good idea. Though it is by no means comprehensive, you can use the following guide to practice correct flag etiquette in most any situation.

Displaying the flag vertically. When hanging the American flag from the windowsill of a building or your house, the blue patch with the stars (hereafter referred to as the Union side) should be on top, and positioned on the farther side of the flag from the building. If you’re putting it up in a window, meanwhile, the Union corner should be in the window’s upper left area as viewed from outside the building. From inside, it will be the upper right.

Hanging the flag from a pole. First and foremost, proper American flag etiquette dictates that you should make sure the flagpole you’re using is long enough so that, on calm days, the flag doesn’t touch the ground. This includes the days when it’s supposed to be flown at half staff. When displayed next to state and municipal flags, the American flag should be at the center, and hung higher than the rest to symbolize the Union’s precedence over the states. When displaying the American flag along with the flags of other nations, meanwhile, they should all be of equal height and order does not matter.

Ceremonies involving the American flag. In general, regular citizens should always remove any headwear and put their hands over their hearts when the flag is being hoisted or passed. This is the key, all-purpose rule to remember. At a burial with the flag draped over the casket of the deceased, there are a few special rules. The flag should be draped so that the “Union corner” is at the head of the casket, and should not touch the ground at any side. When the casket is lowered, the flag should be removed so as not to be buried along with the casket.

Folding the flag. Of all the rules for American flag etiquette, this is probably the one that is least adhered to by the general population. When folding the flag, you should start by folding in half width-wise (or “hot dog” style) once. Then, fold it width wise again so that it’s quartered with the “Union corner” facing outward. Finally, fold it into right triangles starting from the stripes side until you reach the other end. When finished, the folded flag should be triangular in shape. 

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