10 things to know about flag etiquette

Too often, Carey Snyder has observed what he calls “a lackadaisical attitude toward flag ceremonies.”

His passion for the American flag and a desire to improve flag ceremonies both inside and outside Scouting inspired him to create a 42-slide PowerPoint presentation called “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” In the presentation, which he’ll send you for free, Snyder explains the importance of respecting our flag and what it stands for.

After all, writes Snyder in the introduction to his presentation, “We, as the premier organization for youth, have an example to uphold.”

Snyder is a volunteer in the Sam Houston Area Council and agreed to let me summarize parts of his presentation into 10 things to know about flag etiquette. 

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1. Flag ceremonies should be respectful and tailored to the Scouts participating.

All Scout flag ceremonies should be solemn events, but they shouldn’t all be the same.

For Tigers, plan a flag ceremony that’s short and simple. For older Cub Scouts, add a few more lines.

For Boy Scouts, suggest the boys plan something more elaborate and deeper in meaning, perhaps with additional comments by an adult or a more senior Scout.

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2. Don’t ever let the flag touch anything beneath it.

The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.

However, contrary to an urban legend, the U.S. Flag Code does not state that a flag that touches the ground should be burned or retired.

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3. Never add anything to an American flag.

The American flag is great enough as it is. That’s why the flag “should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

In other words, leave it be.

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4. The flag isn’t to be worn as a costume.

No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations, like the BSA.

The flag patch worn on Scout uniforms and the flag patch worn on military uniforms face different ways. This is why.

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5. The flag occupies a position of honor.

When carried in a procession, the American flag is to:

  • The marching right of other flags, or
  • In front of other flags.

When displayed, the American flag:

  • Should be to the flag’s own right (the audience’s left).
  • When grouped with other flags, (i.e., state, Scout, council, etc.), should be at the center, in front of or higher than the other flags.
  • When with another flag on crossed staffs, should be on the flag’s own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag(s).
  • When with the flags of two or more nations, it should be flown from separate staffs of the same height. International use forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in times of peace.

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6. When it’s time to retire a flag, do so in a dignified way.

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.

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7. The flag may be burned as a whole or separated into pieces.

Separation is appropriate when the flag is large, or when you have only a few flags and a large number of Scouts who wish to take a substantive part in the ceremony.

More on flag retirement here.

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8. The flag should be lowered daily.

Unless the flag pole is lighted, it should be lowered at dusk. Again, special care should be taken that no part of the flag touches the ground.

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9. Fold the American flag properly.

In this country, we have special way we fold our flag. The American flag — and only the American flag — is folded into a triangle.

Boys’ Life shows us how it’s done.

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10. A folded flag is carried against the chest.

A properly folded flag should show only a triangular blue field of stars — unlike the one in the stock image above. The flag, when folded, is then carried held against the chest with the arms crossed and folded against the chest. The triangle points up.

Get the full presentation

Want Carey Snyder’s full flag etiquette presentation? Send him an email with “Flag Presentation” in the subject.