Congress’s flag etiquette book: Our Flag


A good guide to flag etiquette from the U.S. Congress is on-line now. Our Flag is a traditional publication Congress passes out in efforts to help education in history and patriotism (H.Doc 108-97).

Interest in proper etiquette for flag display increased recently — not enough by my calculation, but any increase is welcomed. Where is good information available?

This Congressionally-sponsored guide is basic and accurate. As a classroom resource or a piece of a Scout troop library, it’s a useful reference guide. It can be downloaded (it’s a .pdf), and printed out in color (56 pages).

The book includes many illustrations showing proper flag display.  It also covers the history of the U.S. flag in good enough detail to get through most high school reports, and it features illustrations of flags of each of the states.

Congress in the past provided many publications on such topics for general public consumption and use in classrooms, but has cut back on free distribution of printed information since the early 1980s.  One might be able to get a printed copy with a request to one’s local Member of the House of Representatives, or U.S. Senator.

Boy Scouts of America version of the flag etiquette guide, Your Flag

Boy Scouts of America version of the flag etiquette guide, Your Flag

Another book I’ve found very useful is an official Boys Scouts of America publication of the almost the same name, Your Flag.  It’s a graphic-novel type of publication — cartoons for every point to be made.  It features deeper information on proper flag display.  The book can be purchased at any local Boy Scout Council supply shop, or any other shop that stocks Scout literature.  It can also be ordered from BSA’s national catalog, or online at Scoutstuff.org, for $7.9910.99plus shipping.  Every Scout troop should have one of these, and it is also very useful for classroom libraries, for history and civics.

In either publication, one learns that there are not many ways to display a flag properly from a vehicle — improper displays include decals on windows, bumper stickers, flying them from the radio antenna, or attaching them to a window pole to be battered in freeway-speed winds.

One might hope these books get much broader circulation.

15 Responses to Congress’s flag etiquette book: Our Flag

  1. […] Congress’s flag etiquette guide, “Our Flag” […]

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  2. […] Congress’s flag etiquette guide, “Our Flag” […]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    P.S – Does your unit have a copy of the BSA publication, Your Flag?

    You can download a .pdf of the U.S. Senate’s Our Flag here.

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Great question, Meliss!

    Not sure there is a direct “correct” answer. Here’s the way I think we got there.

    http://www.usflag.org/flag.etiquette.html

    Common rules of honoring the flag assume an outdoor display on multiple flagpoles. The rule then is, “The U.S. flag is always the first to be raised, and the last to be retired.” (This rule is found in the U.S. flag code, 4 USC 1 et seq; see 4 USC 1 sec 7(f))

    I’ve not found any written guidance on parading the flag into a room and posting it in a stand. But that’s how Scout ceremonies usually go.

    One Scoutmaster explained he interpreted the First Raised/Last Lowered rule to mean the U.S. flag should be the first posted, and last removed.

    Does that help?

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  5. Meliss says:

    My cub scouts are working on learning how to do a proper flag ceremony. In some places, I’ve read the lesser flags post first, other things say the U.S. flag posts first. It can’t be both! Which is correct? Thank you!

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    The image I used for the Your Flag book from BSA disappeared; it’s a great book, still for sale, but try to find an image of it on the internet. Just try.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    My wife, Kathryn, said she was always confused about why the national anthem always paid homage to the (then Milwaukee, now Atlanta) Braves. I suppose the Tigers are similarly confused . . .

    Sure, you can write to the culprits (a university with a tiger as a mascot and a former U.S. senator as president — who is that?*) I can’t guarantee an answer at all, let alone a satisfactory one.

    There is not as much prescribed protocol for the national anthem, as there is for the flag. There is no “anthem code.”

    Whatever you do, please don’t start a movement for a Constitutional amendment to fix it.

    Yes, write the president. And please, share with us what his answer is, will you?

    * Dick Celeste is president of Colorado College, but he was never a U.S. senator — Member of the House, but not Senate. David Boren is president of the University of Oklahoma, and he was a Member of the Senate, but they aren’t the tigers . . . hmmmm. Are you sure he was a senator?

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  8. Hilarie Blaney says:

    I am a graduate of The Protocol School of Washington in D.C. We were trained in flag etiquette and I was so glad to have this publication for my records. Recently I have noticed sports athletes not covering their hearts at the ballgame so I have this to verify the rules. However, I attended a basketball game where the audiance sang the Star Spangled Banner and ended it with “and the home of the Tigers.” How in the world does one tackle that? I would like to write the President of the university, what do you think? He was a US Senator! Any recommendations on how he can make fans use the respect that our county deserves? Thank you, Hilarie Blaney

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  9. […] MFB post on “Our Flag,” and Boy Scout book, Your Flag […]

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    The quick answer is, the U.S. flag should go to its own right, which is usually to the left of the viewers (students). Here in Texas, classrooms should have both a U.S. and a Texas flag. In most classrooms rather small flags are mounted on the whiteboard or chalk board, with the U.S. flag on the left side as the viewer looks on, the Texas flag on the right.

    Here’s a site that talks about displaying the Maryland flag, from the Maryland Secretary of State: http://www.sos.state.md.us/Services/flagprotocol.htm#display

    Pay special attention to the figures in 2.14 and 2.15 — they show how the flags should look to viewers, even in a classroom (though one of the figures shows the flags hanging from a rope or cable across a street).

    This is also discussed, by inference, on pages 13 and 14 of the pamphlet available from Congress, the .pdf file noted in the original post (it’s pages 19 and 20 of the .pdf file; just look for the illustrations of how to display the U.S. flag).

    Four years ago I used to find flags displayed incorrectly a lot of Texas classrooms, but I think it’s getting better — only one erroneous display I’ve found in the past six months.

    There is little more aesthetically pleasing flag display than the U.S. and Maryland flags together, in my opinion. When we lived in Maryland we took every opportunity to show both, and I regret that we don’t have any uncontrived opportunities to display our Maryland flag here in Texas.

    Good luck! If you still have questions, let me know.

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  11. Joyce Fitzwater says:

    How does one display the American and Maryland flag in a public school classroom?

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  12. Jude says:

    Right after 9/11, I saw many violations of the flag code, such as large unlighted flags draped over buildings. I tried to avoid getting upset about the violations, but I felt as though everyone had suddenly discovered *my* flag without knowing the rules. When I was a Cub Scout leader, I encountered many misconceptions about the Flag Code among my fellow leaders. It was frustrating.

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  13. John says:

    I have often wondered about the propriety of some car displays myself. I think the worst are the flags tied to radio antennas, both because the flag itself gets battered at high speeds, and because it could become a dangerous projectile if it somehow detached.

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