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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

My flag touched the ground. Do I need to destroy it? No. You should, of course, try to avoid having the flag touch the ground. But if it does, you should correct the situation immediately. If the flag has been dirtied, you should clean it by hand with a mild soap solution and dry it well before returning it to use.

My flag is old and ready to be retired. What should I do? Section 8k of the Flag Code (see below) 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." We recommend that you contact your local VFW Chapter and ask them for help properly disposing of your flag. And be sure to consider providing a small donation to them for their assistance. Or you can contact your local Elks Lodge (who created the idea of Flag Day, established officially by President Truman, himself a member of the Elks), the American Legion, or the Knights of Columbus. Some Boy Scout and Girl Scout troups also can provide this service.

Is it appropriate to fly a flag that has fewer than 50 stars? Yes. There is nothing wrong in flying a historic flag.

I am not a citizen of the US; am I expected to salute the flag? Americans should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. Those who are not U.S. citizens should stand at attention.

Is it okay to fly a flag that was used to drape a coffin? The Flag Code makes no reference to this use, but consensus among experts is that yes, it would be an honor to display the flag to show patriotism.

How can I get a flag that has flown over the Capitol? Constituents may arrange to purchase flags that have been flown over the Capitol by getting in touch with their Senators or Representative. A certificate signed by the Architect of the Capitol accompanies each flag. Flags are available for purchase in sizes of 3'x5' or 5'x8' in fabrics of cotton and nylon.

What does the fringe on the flag represent?
The gold trim is found on ceremonial flags, to be used indoors and for ceremonies only. They originally were used on military flags. The fringe has no specific significance, but is considered completely within the guidelines of proper flag etiquette. There is nothing in the flag code indicating that the fringe is for federal government flags only. The Internet contains many sites that claim that the fringe indicates martial law or that the Constitution does not apply in that area. These are entirely unfounded (usually citing Executive Order 10834 and inventing text that is not part of the order) and should be dismissed as urban legends.

Should I fly my flag at half-mast today?
Your flag should be flown at half-mast upon reliable information that a past or present President or Vice-President has died. It should also be flown at half-staff upon Presidential proclamation. See Section 7-M below for more information.

Can my company decide to fly our flag at half-mast for a former employee? No. Only the president of the US or your state governor can order the flag lowered to half-staff.

Upon the death of a sitting or former President how long does the flag fly at half-mast? For a Vice-President? 30 days for the death of a sitting or former President. 10 days for the death of a Vice President. See section 7-m below for more information.

How can I show mourning if my flag is on a fixed pole or staff and can't be half-masted? The flag rules make no provisions for this. However, army regulations state, "A streamer of black crepe 7 feet long and 1 foot wide will be attached to the staff immediately below the spearhead of the U.S. flag."

Can I have people sign my flag? No, you should never sign the flag directly on it. If your flag has a canvas strip that holds the grommets, it is acceptable to have everyone sign along that canvas strip. Or, you can have everyone sign a separate document that can then be framed and displayed with the flag.

I am thinking of getting a flag tattoo. Is it okay?
There is nothing in the Flag Code about tattoos. The question is one of respect for the flag. In this case one person's respect is another's disrespect, and we advise against a flag tattoo. Perhaps an American eagle would look good?

What is the meaning of the folds in a flag-folding ceremony?
There is no reference to meaning of the folds in the Flag Code.

Is Texas's the only state flag allowed to fly at the same height as the US flag?
No, this is an urban legend. All state flags may fly at the same height as the U.S. flag. The U.S. flag must be on its right (the viewer's left), however. Texas's laws are consistent with those of the other states.

Does the ball ornament atop a flagpole contain a razor, lighter, and flare?
No. This is just an urban legend. One explanation is that the myth started during the Cold War and that the objects were to be used to destroy the flag in the event of a Soviet invasion. Of course, the ball ornament predates the Cold War by many years.

Is it okay to have a flag t-shirt with words written on it?
No, the flag should never be worn and no, the flag should never have marks or words written upon it. Section 8d (see below): "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel." Section 8g: "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."

Is it okay to use flag napkins or flag paper plates?
No. Section 8i (see below) reads: "It should not be ... printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard."

Is it okay for an advertisement to use the flag? No. Section 8i (see below) reads, "The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever."

Where does the flag fly 24 hours a day?
Untold thousands of places. Section 6a: "when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." Of course it flies 24 hours a day on the Moon. There is an elite group where, by executive order, it is to fly 24 hours a day, shown here:

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948). Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954). United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961). On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965). The White House, Washington, DC. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970). Washington Monument, Washington, DC. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971). Fifty flags of the United States are displayed at the Washington Monument continuously. United States Customs Ports of Entry which are continually open (Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972). Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4,1975).

I fly my flag at home 24 hours a day. What does "properly illuminated" mean?
Section 6a: "when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." The Flag Rules offer no additional guidance on this question. We interpret this to mean that there is either a light directly upon the flag or that there is sufficient local lighting to make the flag easily visible at night.

When children paint the American flag, is that against the Flag rules and regulations?
Respectfully featuring the American flag in artwork is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged. We would hope that the artwork is preserved and displayed proudly by the young artists and their families.

What does the Flag Code say about displaying the flag horizontally, as before a football game?
Section 8c. reads, "The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free."

Why is the flag sometimes backwards on the side of airplanes, buses, and other vehicles?
The flag decals have the union (the blue area with the stars) on the side closer to the front of the plane. On the plane's left, the decal shows the flag with the union at the left, as usual. On the plane's right side, the union is on the right. This is done so that the flag looks as if it is blowing in the wind created by the forward movement. You can see this on cars and trucks as well.

On my motorcycle, I have two flags, the US flag and a POW/MIA flag. How should they be positioned?
The US flag should always be on its right, as shown in this picture. The POW/MIA or other flag flies on its left, which is the viewer's right, facing the motorcycle.

What is the proper way to wear a flag patch on one's shoulder sleeve?
To wear our country's flag properly, the field of stars should be worn closest to your heart. Thus, if your patch is to be worn on your LEFT sleeve, use a left flag. For patches worn on your RIGHT sleeve, use a "right" or "reversed field" 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. Some elect to use the "left" flag on both sleeves. [Note: many states and cities have ordinances pertaining to the use of the flag; you may wish to contact the Attorney General of your state or the City Attorney's office regarding this matter.] If you are planning to wear only one patch, it is recommended that you wear a "left" flag on your left sleeve. Military guidelines specify that in support of joint or multi-national operations, the "right" flag is worn on the right sleeve, 1/4" below the shoulder seam or 1/8" below any required unit patches.
Source: Army Website FAQs

Isn't the American flag stamp in violation of the flag rules?
This question has been asked by dozens of visitors to this page. The answer appears to be yes. Section 8e. (see below) reads, "The flag should never be ... used ... in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way." Section 8g. reads, "The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark ... of any nature." 8i. reads, "[The flag] should not be printed or otherwise impressed on ... anything that is designed for temporary use and discard."

What is a flag?
This question does not have an obvious answer. Our conclusion is that the flag is that which we recognize to be the flag. The pictures below are all understood to be flags, even with little or inaccurate visual information, or existing in light, or with the parts of the flag in a different arrangement. These are not shown as examples of violations of the flag rules.

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