Displaying the U.S. Flag

David Aker
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 Position and Manner of Display of the U.S. Flag

 Let me take this opportunity to bring to your attention a matter that is worthy of consideration.  It appears that the proper presentation of flags in front of buildings should be reviewed.

There may be some confusion among the general public regarding the position and manner of display for the U.S. Flag when it is flown with flags of states, cities or “societies”, especially when there are multiple flagpoles of the same height in front of a building.

Background Information

The U.S. Flag Code was originally drafted in 1923. The Flag Code has been modified over the years, but is still based upon the same principles as the original flag code.

The application of the flag code can be confusing because it is difficult to anticipate every manner of display that is possible. Therefore, the flag code does require some interpretation. If reference is made to the principles upon which the original flag code was based, a valid interpretation is possible.

These principles are the fundamental rules of heraldry. “There are certain fundamental rules of heraldry which, if understood generally, would indicate the proper method of displaying the Flag.” [i]

The following excerpts are from the original Flag Code and are based upon the fundamental rules of heraldry:

  • “… The union of the Flag is the honor point; the right arm is the sword arm, and therefore the point of danger and hence the place of honor.”
  • “When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the Flag of the United States of America should either be on the marching right, i.e., the flags own right, or when there is a line of other flags… in front of the center of that line.”
  • “When flags of states or cities or “societies”… are flown with the Flag of the United States of America… No such flag or pennant… should be placed… to the right of the flag of the United States of America, i.e., to the observer’s left.”

Near the end of the original Flag Code there is a specific caution. It states “Do not place any other flag or pennant above or, if on the same level, to the right of the Flag of the United States of America.”

Implicit in the language of the flag code, is the assumption that all flags should be flown at full staff.  In other words, one cannot achieve the fundamental rules of heraldry by merely lowering the flags of states, cities or “societies” to a position other than “full staff”.

Current Reference

The Flag Code (Title IV United States Code) states in §7(e) “The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of “societies” are grouped and displayed from staffs.”

If the flagpoles are all the same height, it is not possible to comply with the above- referenced section of the Flag Code.

Therefore, it is appropriate to reference §7(c) which states “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,”

The above reference means the flag’s own right.

Flags of Other Nations

The above commentary refers only to displaying the Flag of the United States of America with state flags, city flags or flags of “societies”.

With respect to displaying the Flag of the United States of America with flags of other nations, the original flag code was very specific. It stated that “When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they should be flown from separate staffs of the same height and the flags should be approximately equal size. (International usage forbids of the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.)”

The current flag code includes exactly the same wording.  (Title IV United States Code, Chapter 1, §7(g))

[i] The Flag Code, adopted at The National Flag Conference, Washington, D.C., June 14 – 15, 1923 as revised and endorsed at The Second National Flag Conference, Washington, May 15, 1924.