Chapter 1, title 4 of the US Code governs the use and display of the US Flag. While there are no laws that punish those who violate this code (there used to be but it was later repealed as unconstitutional) it is still important to know the proper etiquette of wear and use of the flag when placing it on your kit or uniform.
The Pentagon states that the end each state’s Attorney General has the responsibility to set the policy on the proper etiquette governing the nation’s flag. In addition the US code outlines some guidelines that you should be aware of and dispels a few myths.
- If worn on one side, the flag should be worn in a manner that displays the union (stars) as moving in the wind- What this means is that when wearing the flag on the right shoulder of a uniform, right side of a vehicle or any other moving platform the stars should lead the flag. This causes the flag to often appear “backwards”. In reality the flag is being worn in the manner that if it was freestanding it would fly. It is important to note that is a guideline set forth by the US military, not by the US Code.
- There is no law/code the governs the proper direction or wear of the US Flag on uniforms or kit- There are a lot of people out there who lose their minds when they see a flag being worn “backwards” on a shirt, hat or other piece of kit. In reality the only part of the US Code that mentions wear of the US flag on a uniform states “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.” (4 U.S. Code § 8 (i)- Respect for flag). Further, the US Code determines that the wear of the US Flag on a uniform is “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.”
While there is no US Code that governs the direction or wear of the US Flag, service members should consult their respective uniform guides for further information regarding the proper wear and appearance of the US flag on their uniform or kit.
- The flag should never be displayed with the union (stars) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property (4 U.S. Code § 8 (a)- Respect for flag).
- Each state’s Attorney General sets the policy for the wear/use/display of the US Flag– Since the law does not specifically address the positioning of the patch, a decision is left to the discretion of the organization prescribing the wear. This means at the end of the day, how you wear the flag, as long as it’s not disrespectful or in violation of the US Code, is up to you. However, you may contact your state’s Attorney General for further guidance.
- The US Flag should never have anything added to it- The US Code states “The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.” (4 U.S. Code § 8 (g)- Respect for flag). This means that companies who sell patches that add their company logo or other mark on it are in violation of the US Code.
- The US Flag should be displayed at the top of any group of patches- “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America…” (4 U.S. Code § 7 (c) Position and Manner of Display).
- Never wear the flag in a location that would cause it to become soiled, damaged or torn. “The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.” (4 U.S. Code § 8 (e)- Respect for flag). This one is tough, especially when wearing your flag on a kit that is drug through the mud during combat operations. While this can be interpreted in a number of different ways you should take it that you should take every effort to place the flag in a location on your kit that is the least likely to become damaged or soiled such as your shoulder, chest or helmet. In the end, as long as you aren’t purposefully disrespecting the flag you good. We purposefully make our flags out of a PVC material that allows them to be cleaned post mission. You should make every effort to keep your flag/s maintained in a respectful manner and if you flag becomes damaged you should dispose of your flag in a respectful way. The US 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.” (4 U.S. Code § 8 (k)- Respect for flag.
The take away here is that as long as you aren’t disrespecting the flag you are most likely good to go. You should attempt to keep the flag out of the dirt and take every effort to respect the flag. If you are a stickler for flag etiquette keep in mind that people wear the US Flag on their kit or uniform because they are proud of their nation and what the flag represents. If you feel they are violating a specific code you should educate them on the proper code but also keep in mind that they are most likely not breaking the rules purposefully. In the end we fully support anyone who wants to proudly display the US flag as it instills patriotism, banal nationalism and loyalty; something that is lacking in our current state of affairs.
4 U.S. Code § 7 Position and Manner of Display
The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag’s own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.
(a) The flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff, or as provided in subsection (i) of this section.
(b) The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
(c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.
(d) The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag’s own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.
(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
(h) When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.
(i) When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
(k) When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.
(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff, and the same authority is provided to the Mayor of the District of Columbia with respect to present or former officials of the District of Columbia and members of the Armed Forces from the District of Columbia. When the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, or the Mayor of the District of Columbia, issues a proclamation under the preceding sentence that the National flag be flown at half-staff in that State, territory, or possession or in the District of Columbia because of the death of a member of the Armed Forces, the National flag flown at any Federal installation or facility in the area covered by that proclamation shall be flown at half-staff consistent with that proclamation. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection—
(1) 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;
(2) the term “executive or military department” means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5, United States Code; and
(3) the term “Member of Congress” means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.
(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer’s left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance, the flag should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north, when entrances are to the east and west or to the east when entrances are to the north and south. If there are entrances in more than two directions, the union should be to the east.
4 U.S. Code § 8 Respect for the flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It 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. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The 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.
(k) 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.