Avoid These Common Flag Code Violations
The American flag is a sacred symbol of our country. It’s meant to embody our history, our values, our triumphs and everything else that makes us unique as a nation. As such, it’s important to treat the flag with due respect and dignity.
Many people aren’t aware that there’s actually a code of conduct that applies to the American flag. It encompasses not only how to fly the flag, but also how to treat it when it’s not raised or when disposing of a tattered or damaged flag. It’s a code every American needs to observe.
If you’re going to fly the flag with pride, make sure you’re treating it with the respect and dignity it demands. Here’s a look at some of the most common flag code violations and how to avoid them, to ensure you’re treating Old Glory right.
1. The Flag Should Not Touch the Ground
The American flag is an important symbol of the sacrifices made by our soldiers in pursuit of freedom. When you let the flag touch the ground, you are disrespecting all those who have fought and died serving this cause and their nation. You also disrespect the values of the country by this act. The flag code states the flag should never touch the ground under any circumstances. And, if you see a flag touching the ground for any reason, make sure you pick it up and either raise it or fold it properly for safekeeping.
2. The Flag Should Never be Stepped on
The flag code also states that the flag should never be stepped on. When you step on the flag, it is a grave disrespect to your country, and what it stands for in terms of its values. There have been times in history that flag has been stepped on and treated with disrespect, such as during protests, which is a direct violation of the flag code in general—which instructs us to treat the flag with respect and care. Stepping on the flag is symbolic to treading on our country and its values. Thankfully, it’s easy to avoid stepping on the flag if you keep it off the ground!
3. Do Not Burn the Flag
One of the most commonly misunderstood flag code violations is about burning it. This is because people think you are never supposed to burn the flag under any circumstances; however, this part of the flag code isn't as black and white as many people think. In fact, the flag code states that the proper way of retiring a flag is to burn it in an official retirement ceremony. The other reason people confuse the matter of burning the flag is because it is often burned in protest. There is nothing in the flag code that says you can't burn the flag for reasons of protest and this display, though deemed disgraceful by most citizens, is protected under the powers of Freedom of Speech.
4. Do Not Wear a Real Flag as Clothing
Other than burning flags, this is the most misunderstood of the common flag code violations. The flag code states you should not wear the flag as clothing or costume. Many people confuse this matter because they take it to mean any replica or emblem of the flag—but the code is stating a real American flag should not be altered into clothing. There is nothing wrong with wearing a shirt or swim trunks with the American flag on them provided the material was never a real American flag.
5. Never Fly a Torn or Dirty Flag
The flag should always be flown in a pristine condition. If it's dirty, the flag code regulates you should clean it. If it’s torn or tattered, flag code demands that you to retire it by burning, and replace it with a new flag in proper condition. The flag should always be easily identifiable as the symbol of our nation, and should be in a condition that represents the pride of patriotism.
There are some very minor exceptions to this rule—such as if the flag was part of a historic event. For example, some firehouses in NYC still fly the same flags as they flow on September 11, 2001, as a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives.
6. The American Fly Supersedes all Others
When flying an American flag alongside others on a flagpole, the American flag should always be flown the highest. Even when it’s lowered to half-staff for observances, the American flag always needs to be the highest-flying flag. Adjust all others accordingly, so they’re below the American flag—even State flags or POW/MIA flags.
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