Thursday is Flag Day and, given the amount of attention the flag and customs relating to it have received in recent months, it’s a good time for a look at the US Flag Code, which provides an extensive list of rules for treatment of the US flag.
Many of the provisions of the flag code can be obscure and are not well known, according to John Hoellwarth, the national communications director for the service organization American Veterans and a former Marine.
“There are some quirky things that not everybody knows,” Hoellwarth said in an interview with CNN. “By and large, I don’t think there is this national epidemic of people disrespecting the flag,” but there are “interesting rules and guidelines that people just don’t know because they don’t happen upon them in everyday life.”
“The most common thing I see in my neighborhood that’s not done according to spec is people flying a flag in front of their home and not taking it down or lighting it at night,” he said.
The flag code requires that, if a flag is flown at night, there must be a dedicated light source lighting it.
Hoellwarth quipped that he has “been on my mother’s case about that” since he joined the Marines.
Another little-known regulation Hoellwarth highlighted as “one of my favorite ones” is the procedure for raising a flag to half-staff — it must first be raised all the way up the flag pole, then lowered back down to half-staff. Per the flag code, the same procedure is to be repeated in reverse when taking down a flag flying at half-staff.
The flag code specifies different procedures for hanging a flag over a street depending on whether the street runs from north to south or east to west.
The code also prohibits displaying any other nation’s flag at the same height as the US flag within US territory. In the case of the recent US-North Korea summit, which was held in Singapore, this rule did not apply.
“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,” the code reads.
Debate has swirled in recent months about NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, and whether this is a violation of the flag code or disrespectful to the flag.
Hoellwarth recognized the disagreement that surrounds the issue.
“AMVETS believes that people should stand for the National Anthem and that they should respect the flag,” he said. However, the group does “recognize immediately that it’s their right to protest or to kneel.”
Overall, Hoellwarth encouraged people to take Flag Day as an opportunity to celebrate “our flag and our national identity.”
“Also, maybe take a moment to learn something about our flag that you didn’t know,” he said. “I think that’s a cool way to celebrate Flag Day.”