Today is Flag Day, and while it’s not a holiday that usually lands us a day off work, it’s at least a great time to learn a little something about the American flag. For example, do you know when you should burn your flag or if a flag on a T-shirt is really considered a flag at all? What about the United States Flag Code?
We’ve recently gleaned some facts about our stars and stripes, and we thought we’d pass them along for your enjoyment and education. Here are five interesting facts about handling, displaying and caring for the American flag:
1. You don’t have to burn a flag just because it touches the ground. According to USHistory.org, this tradition is no longer a necessary one. While you obviously don’t want to wave a flag that has a corner dragging on the ground, if you’re moving a flag and it brushes the floor, just make sure you pick it up and try to keep it off the ground in the future. The website also advises cleaning a dirtied flag with mild soap and letting it fully dry before putting it back to use. When your flag is too old to fly anymore and you’re ready to retire it, that’s a great time to respectfully burn it (depending on what material it’s made from, as some materials, like nylon, are more hazardous to burn).
2. The United States Flag Code details everything you need to know about how to properly handle and display the American Flag. Before Flag Day (June 14) 1923, there was no official document that spelled out how people were to handle and care for the American Flag. That year, though, the National Flag Code took shape under the oversight of representatives of more than 68 organizations. The American Legion printed and distributed the code nationwide that year. Then, on June 22, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Flag Code, which led to the Code becoming official law. Even so, there is no penalty for breaking any of the rules laid out in the code, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that enacting a penalty would be infringing on the First Amendment.
3. Flags unrolled before football games technically violate the Flag Code. Though we all love to see that football field-sized spangled banner unrolled before kickoff, it’s technically against the Flag Code to display the flag horizontally rather than vertically. Section 8c of the code reads, “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”
4. You can flip your flag in an emergency. The Flag Code lays out that you are allowed to fly the American flag upside down, but only under one circumstance: You must be in distress. According to the code, ”The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” If you run out of flares out on the water and need to signal for help, just flip that flag and wait for someone to notice.
5. Skip those flag napkins and burn your T-shirt. Think you’re being patriotic when you’re doling out those American flag napkins at your Fourth of July picnic? While you may be expressing your national loyalties, flag napkins are (believe it or not) actually forbidden according to the Flag Code. Section 8i of the Flag Code goes into specific detail about this, saying, “[The American flag] should not be … printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.” And if you’re planning on flipping burgers in a flag tee this year, just know that it’s considered an American flag, and you’ll have to burn it once you’re ready to dispose of it.
Thank goodness the Flag Code isn’t enforced with legal action or we’d likely all be guilty of a number of violations! Even so, enjoy Flag Day and take a minute to think about the American flag and all it represents.