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Misreading the Flag Code

IMG_20150401_125846587Misreading the Flag Code is a common problem, as these photos show. Two of the photos were taken at housing subdivisions here in San Antonio, and the third was taken at an area bank just outside of the city.  All three photos (which I took) indicate a failure to read and understand subsection 7 of the Flag Code.




It is perfectly  acceptable to fly other flags at the same height as the U.S. flag, provided that the other flags are flown to the left—not to the right—of the U.S. flag. But the people in charge of these flags are convinced that other flags cannot be flown as high as the U.S. flag. The result is a display of terrible disrespect to the Texas flag, and the third flag in the second photo is a regional school flag, which is also improperly displayed. The Texas flag and the school flag both are entitled to the full height of their flagpole under ordinary flying conditions.

IMG_20150401_130047225_HDRIn all three photos, the flags are on the proper poles, with the U.S. flag in the right-most configuration. The flag poles are erected facing outward and in such a way as to represent that which is behind them: a bank, the highway entrance to a subdivision, and the sales office in a new housing subdivision.


What does the U.S. Flag Code actually say?

United States Code, 2011 Edition
From the U.S. Government Printing Office

§7. Position and manner of display

(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. (I added the bold print.)

I see this problem far too often, and not only on private property, but at city and county buildings, too.

Photos by Deborah Hendrick for The Daily Flag.











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First U.S. flag “floated” over a school house

The first U.S. flag “floated” over a public school house was at Catamount Hills, Massachusetts, in 1812. Today a standing stone tablet marks where the little log school house stood on top of the hill, now on the edge of the Catamount Hills State Park. They were proud of their flag, the Loyalists of Colrain, Massachusetts, and engraved the stone with the names of the ladies who sewed it, and the men who put it up.

Catamount_Massachusetts_Schoolhouse_MonumentI bet they had a picnic

I like thinking about that flag, and what a great day it must have been when they raised it. I hope it wasn’t flown to tatters—I’d like to think it still exists somewhere, even if no one knows the history.




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Antique American flags link our history

A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.
A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.

Antique American flags link our history to the present. Antique American flags and other textile memorabilia were featured this summer in Town & Country magazine. Antiquities dealer Jeff Bridgman showcased some of his rarest pieces and provided commentary on them in this Town & Country article.

While there are variations on the Stars and Stripes, which changed in number throughout the 19th Century as new states joined the union, the mix also includes a rare colorful militia flag designed by Tiffany & Co. valued at $350,000, and the Declaration of Independence woven into a kerchief, circa 1826.

Want to see more flags? Here is a video from Vimeo that features Bridgman talking about antique American flags and other textiles.





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Salute during the National Anthem

Yes. We are supposed to salute the flag during the National Anthem, with either a “heart salute” (right hand over the heart) or a military salute if you are active duty. Veterans are also permitted to present a military salute if so desired.

The United States Code (our giant collection of American law—laid out in great detail) contains the National Anthem Code and the Flag Code, but the two documents are not found in the same section of the U.S. Code. Portions of the Flag Code are frequently cited (on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day), while the National Anthem Code is rarely mentioned at all.

The National Anthem Code and the Flag Code are laws, but laws predicated on honor and goodwill. No one is compelled to stand at attention and salute, or Pledge allegiance to the flag. Americans have, to borrow a phrase, free will regarding our public display of allegiance and affection for the Anthem and the flag, and indeed, some religious denominations forbid these American rituals.

I will not quote all of the National Anthem Code, but here is the part most people are interested in. Please carefully note Section 2. The National Anthem itself  is the point of honor, so even if we cannot see the flag, we are to turn in the direction of the music, stand at attention and salute.

§301. National anthem

(a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

(1) when the flag is displayed—

(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.


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Not found in the Flag Code

What the Flag Code doesn’t say

ScreenHunter_251 Jun. 24 15.44

There were a lot of news stories last week about flag retirement ceremonies, held in conjunction with Flag Day. Here are excerpts from three that I found especially troubling due to misinformation.  I edited them to remove names and other identifying information because I like these people and I don’t want to embarrass them: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the American Legion.

What the Flag Code says about retiring our American flag is short and succinct:

§8. Respect for flag:  (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.

We are given great latitude in how we conduct flag retirements. I am very grateful to the organizations that conduct these ceremonies; it is an honorable and welcome service that they perform. But imagine my surprise when I found a news story about a flag retirement ceremony that said this,

“ … the scouts recently participated in a flag retirement ceremony. This ceremony is necessary when a flag has become too worn to be displayed. In these cases, the respectful way to dispose of the  flag is for it to be burned. Only three entities can officially retire a flag. They are VFW posts, Scout troops and American Legion posts.” 

What? That’s not what the Flag Code says. Anyone can retire the flag. The Daughters of the American Revolution would be quite surprised to be told they can’t retire their own flags. I frequently encourage families to have their own flag retirement ceremonies. Get the children to write some sweet script, and take a moment to talk about important flags in American history.  I am willing to trust the average American to retire his own flag. We are all official when it comes to retiring the flag.

From another news story:

 “The various elements of the flag … The stars, the red and white stripes and the blue background are included on the flag for a specific purpose.  Once the description has been read, the flag is cut apart.

The stars are saved and will be presented to veterans at a later date [ … ]. The stripes are individually cut off the flag and placed in a fire. The fire container must only be used for flag retirement and nothing else. During the burning portion of the ceremony, no one is to speak and silence has to be maintained out of respect.  [ … ]  Flags are burned one at a time and only after a flag is completely burned will the next one be burned. Silence is observed throughout the entire ceremony.

In the Flag Code, directly above Subsection (k) is Subsection (j) which says [ … ] The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. [ … .]

If the flag is “considered a living thing,” then dismembering a flag so old and worn out that it’s ready for retirement is rather egregious in my opinion. The flag has already served in honor—now it’s faded, ripped and torn, tattered on the fly.  Isn’t that enough?

And why would cutting out the stars and saving them (set aside to be given away later) be more important than the stripes? The flag was never meant to be parceled out in bits and pieces. That’s why we set it on fire in a ceremony, and burn it to ashes. Otherwise we could be making quilts out of the stripes—or kites, and patriotically flying them on the 4th of July.

Our most popular flag myth

And I read this:

 “ … flags should be retired for a number of reasons. The first indication a flag has become unserviceable is faded colors, but [ … ]  a flag should be retired if it has touched the ground. It’s just been a principle of the flag etiquette for years in the country, which is to keep all flags from touching the ground … . “

“When it comes to proper disposal, [ … ] it’s best to leave it to the experts [said the American Legion commander, who ] discourages anyone from burning their own flag, and invites area residents to turn their worn out flags over to the American Legion or any other veterans organization.”

No where in the Flag Code does it say that if a flag touches the ground, it should be destroyed. Yes, every effort should be made to keep the flag from touching the ground and other things beneath it (landscaping for example, and automobiles at giant car dealerships), but destroying a perfectly good flag is unnecessary, and not supported by the text. I am certain if those who codified the Flag Code meant for us to retire a dropped flag, they would have mentioned it specifically.

Flags fall down. Home flags mounted on diagonal poles are especially vulnerable to being blown out of the mount. The wind can pull one out of your hands while putting it up or taking it down (it’s happened to me). It’s a good idea to have a back up flag, if the flag does get dirty, but it doesn’t have to be destroyed, it just needs to be laundered or sent to the dry cleaners.

From the same newspaper article:

How to properly retire a U.S. flag:  Once a U.S. flag becomes worn, frayed or dirty, the flag is considered unserviceable and unable to properly fly. In order to suitably retire a U.S. or other American national flag, several procedures are to be followed in order to avoid any disrespect or desecration. According to the Veterans Department of Affairs and U.S. Flag Code, here are the steps to burn a flag: (my italics–DH)

1. Prepare a fire large enough to sufficiently burn the entire flag.

2. Fold the flag in a customary triangle manner.

3. Place the flag on the fire carefully and respectfully.

4. Individuals should salute or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as observe a moment of silence.

5. Allow the flag to be completely consumed.

6. Once the fire is cool, collect the ashes and any pieces of the flag.

7. Bury the ashes.

[The American Legion commander said] “ in order to ensure the flag is disposed properly, the flag must be given to a veteran’s organization. [He] encourages anyone with an unserviceable flag to donate it to any local American Legion post.

The Department of Veterans Affairs compiled a 52-page booklet about American history, veterans, the flag, and the scope of the department. No where in the booklet does it say anything about flag retirement ceremonies except to repeat the same section from the Flag Code:

§8. Respect for flag:  (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.

Lastly, from the American Legion’s own website, in a section called Flag Myths, it identifies this myth:

You must destroy the flag when it touches the ground.
As long as the flag remains suitable for display, the flag may continue to be displayed as a symbol of our great country.

As I said at the beginning, I am grateful to civic and service organizations who perform the job of retiring our American flags. It’s an important service and it’s a big job, too. And they can choose any ceremony they want, but please make sure your script says, “This is how we like to retire the flag,” because it’s highly inappropriate and misleading to say “this is what the Flag Code says” when it doesn’t.

And don’t tell me I can’t retire my own flag.













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Condo association and The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005

American flag on white house

Betty has some questions about flying the American flag at condos.

I am in a new condo development, where we are developing rules. Each building is a duplex of 2 patio homes. Can we restrict the display to one flag per duplex mounted on a specific wall shared by both units? Given the design, there is no room to display a flag near the front door or patio.  Also, can the association require, at the homeowners expense, that a specific bracket be used and installed by an approved contractor? Surface is brick, placement is crucial and proper drill bits are needed to preserve the integrity if the brick.

American flag on white house
U.S. flag on white house with tree

Hi Betty. The condo development is very smart to consider these ideas in a pro-active way. The goal of the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005  was protect both the homeowners and property management, but there are still problems in execution.

The law protects each homeowner, so limiting a duplex to one (shared) flag would be a violation of the law. And I think there would be problems with ownership, responsibility, maintenance, et cetera with a shared flag. The owner in Side A might be willing to buy the best flag available, and the owner in Side B might be satisfied with buying a flag from a road-side vendor.

Certainly the condo association can enact specific rules regarding installing a flag mount, but if the rules are onerous, they will be challenged. As you are doubtless aware, there have been numerous stories this summer about homeowners running afoul of their HOA over flying the American flag. The negative publicity to the HOAs and management companies has been terrible, even when they were in compliance with the law, and the homeowner was not.

A necessary tension exists between the homeowner and the HOA or condo association. The homeowner’s right to display an American flag is absolute, but the “management” has a fiduciary responsibility to the entire development, and does have the right to set reasonable standards.

What if the condo development association bought top-quality flag mounts and installed them at each condo, precisely where they wanted them, as a courtesy to each homeowner. If the homeowner doesn’t want to display a flag—no problem (just ignore the flag mount), and for those who want to fly a flag, the flag mount is already there. The condo standards are maintained, and the homeowner has a choice in his flag purchase.

For what it’s worth, the facings on garage doors are a popular area for flag mounts. I see it quite often in condo and townhouse locations.

The text of the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 can be found in Section 5 of the U.S. Flag Code.

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Texas legislature passes protocol for folding the Lone Star flag

horse and ride with Texas flag Last October on The Daily Flag, I wrote an article titled Texas Fold ‘Em, about folding the Texas flag. The gist of the article was that there was not an official way to fold the flag, although state offices have traditionally folded it the same way the U.S. flag is folded.

Early this summer, the Texas legislature passed a bill that codifies a protocol for folding the flag, and now Texans have an official method for folding the Lone Star Flag.

Authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, the legislation goes into effect September 1, 2009.

SECTION 1.  Requires that this Act be known as the Rod Welsh Act, in honor of Rod Welsh, Sergeant-at-Arms of the Texas House of Representatives, who is primarily responsible for developing the method of folding the state flag of Texas established by this Act.

SECTION 2.  Amends Subchapter B, Chapter 3100, Government Code, by adding Section 3100.073, as follows:

Sec. 3100.073.  FOLDED STATE FLAG.  (a)  Provides that the state flag should be folded as follows: fold the flag in half lengthwise with the red stripe facing upward, fold the flag in half lengthwise once more, concealing the red stripe on the inside of the fold,  position the flag with the white star facing downward and the blue stripe facing upward,  fold the corner with the white stripe to the opposite side of the flag to form a triangle, continue folding the corners over in triangles until the resulting fold produces a blue triangle with a portion of the white star visible, and  secure all edges into the folds.

(b)  Provides that a folded state flag should be presented or displayed with all folded edges secured and with the blue stripe and a portion of the white star visible.

(c)  Provides that a folded state flag should be stored or displayed in a manner that prevents tearing or soiling of the flag.

SECTION 3.  Effective date: September 1, 2009.

Photo Credit: from the musical “Texas” in Palo Duro Canyon, Canyon Tx

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Displaying the Texas flag

A reminder to those who want to display the Texas flag in the vertical position: The white stripe is on the left and the red stripe is on the right.

From the Texas State Library and Archives Commission: General provisions regarding the Texas state flag, and information on the display of the flag, the flag pledge, and the retirement of the state flag are included in Chapter 3100 of the Texas Government Code, available from the Texas Constitution and Statutes site.

800px-Flag_of_Texas.svg See Sec. 3100.059.  HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL DISPLAY. 

(a)  If the state flag is displayed horizontally, the white stripe should be above the red stripe and, from the perspective of an observer, to the right of the blue stripe.

(b)  If the state flag is displayed vertically:

(1)  the blue stripe should be above the white and red stripes; and

(2)  the white stripe should be, from the perspective of an observer, to the left of the red stripe. (my italics)


This perfect photograph of the Lone Star flag was taken by Matt Pippen at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

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Star-Spangled Banner is the star of the show

DKH_05After a decade’s conservation, the flag that inspired the National Anthem returns to its place of honor on the National Mall.

By Robert M. Poole for Smithsonian magazine, November 2008

starspangledbanner_nov08_520 Long before it flew to the moon, waved over the White House or was folded into tight triangles at Arlington National Cemetery; before it sparked fiery Congressional debates, reached the North Pole or the summit of Mount Everest; before it became a lapel fixture, testified to the Marines’ possession of Iwo Jima, or fluttered over front porches, firetrucks and construction cranes; before it inspired a national anthem or recruiting posters for two world wars, the American ensign was just a flag.


For the rest of Robert M. Poole’s splendid story in Smithsonian magazine, go here.

On Wednesday, President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush dedicated the renovated National Museum of American History. Today is the grand opening to the public, with retired Gen. Colin Powell scheduled to read President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The original Star-Spangled Banner—the one that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired America’s National Anthem—had long been displayed in the museum, but for the past ten years it has been in the hands of conservationists, who have carefully preserved the fragile flag.

starspangledbanner_nov08_7Now it is beautifully displayed again in a specially designed gallery and enclosure that will protect this national treasure. starspangledbanner_nov08_8

All photography from the Smithsonian web site.

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Texas Fold ’em


See updated information about changes to the Texas flag code here.

A recurring question that shows up on every web site that writes about flags, or sell flags is this:  How do you fold a Texas flag?

The Texas Flag Code is silent on this, so there’s no help to be found there. I should mention that the U.S. Flag Code does not tell how to fold the Stars and Stripes either. The origins of our much-beloved tri-cornered fold is a mystery. Last year I speculated (with little scholarship) on this topic and wrote about it here

Recently the question came up again to NAVA members (North American Vexillological Association), and I shared information I’d received last year about folding the Texas flag. But it was wrong, and I mean 180 degrees wrong.

I had been told that the Texas House Sergeant at Arms folded the state flag in the usual triangle shape, finishing on the white stripe, so it was an all-white bundle.  Wrong, and I had failed to do my homework.

Determined to find the correct answer and looking for a place to start, I typed “Texas flag” into the Google search engine, clicked on “images” and took off. At 435 images into 910,000 returns, I found a very important photo. Taken at the graveside service for the funeral of former Texas governor Ann Richards, it showed seven Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. They had just removed the Lone Star flag from the governor’s casket, and were folding it.

Continue reading Texas Fold ’em