Q: I was watching a show the other day and I saw a flag with 48 stars, this is the second show I saw this in, what should I do?

A:  It is perfectly okay to use a Flag with 48 stars, or any other “official” Flag of the United States, during its progression to today.  It is preferable to fly the current Flag, but not disrespectful or out of code to fly any of our country’s official Flags.  In fact, during the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the years 2012 – 2015, many governors are asking citizens to fly the official 15-star, 15-stripe Star-Spangled Banner Flag, which is the Flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland during this war and inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem.  Spread the word so others aren’t mistakenly offended.  Any one of our country’s Flags is inspiring to see waving in the breeze!

Q:  I am the newsletter editor for the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and have a question concerning the finial on the tops of flags. I have heard that there is some meaning for each finial such as whether the flag has been in battle or is representative of some unique military action. I have read the information about the different uses of finials for heads of state and the differences between the various branches of the service but nothing about the finial representing anything else. Is this an urban legend or is there some factual basis to this? We currently are using an eagle finial on our US flag and a staff spear atop our VVA and POW/MIA flag. Are these correct and do they have any specific meaning? Thank you.

A:  From the Congressional Research Service, The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions by John R. Luckey, Legislative Attorney dated February 7, 2011, the section on Ornaments on Flag Staffs, Fringes on Flag:
The Flag Code is silent as to ornaments (finials) for flagstaffs. We know of no law or regulation which restricts the use of a finial on the staff. The eagle finial is used not only by the President, the Vice-President, and many other federal agencies, but also by many civilian organizations and private citizens. The selection of the type finial used is a matter of preference of the individual or organization.

Q: Is it a violation of the Flag Code for McDonald’s to fly their “golden arches” corporate flag on the same flagpole as the U. S. Flag? A: It is perfectly acceptable for a business to display their corporate or organizational flag beneath the United States flag on the same flagpole or displayed from an adjacent flagpole in a multiple display.  This is not considered using the United States flag for advertising purposes whatsoever.   If it were, this would defeat the purpose of encouraging businesses and citizens to display the United States flag every day even if it is with a corporate or organizational flag.

Q: Is the Flag to be displayed only on National holidays? A: The Code suggests displaying the Flag every day, but especially on holidays, including state holidays and during local celebrations.

Q: Where does the Flag fly 24 hours a day? A: After the addition of the new House and Senate wings in the 1850s, even before the great dome was completed in 1863, photographs of the period show Flags flying over each new wing and the central east and west fronts. The custom of flying the Flags 24 hours a day over the east and west fronts was begun during World War 1.  This was done in response to requests received from all over the country urging that the Flag of the United States be flown continuously over the public buildings in Washington, DC.  Presidential proclamations and laws since that time authorize the display of the Flag 24 hours a day at the following places:

  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948).
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954).
  • United States Marine Corp Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No.3418, June 12, 1961).
  • On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965).
  • The White House, Washington, DC. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4,1970). Washington Monument, Washington, D C. (Presidential Proclamation No.4064, July 6,1971, effective July 4, 1971). Fifty flags of the United States are displayed at the Washington Monument continuously.
  • United States Customs Ports of Entry which are continually open (Presidential Proclamation No.4131, May 5, 1972).
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4, 1975).
  • Many other places fly the flag at night as a patriotic gesture by custom.

Q: Can anyone lower the Flag to half-staff to honor someone? A: No.  The lowering of the Flag is only authorized on Memorial Day, from sunrise until noon, and by executive order of the President, or State Governor.

Q: May a Flag patch be worn on a jacket? A: No.  According to the Code, only members of the military, firemen, policemen, or patriotic organizations may wear a Flag patch on their uniform. Use of the Flag patch on costumes, athletic clothing, or casual wear is inappropriate.

Q: What is considered proper illumination when flying the Flag at night? A: “Proper illumination” is a light specifically placed to illuminate the Flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the Flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.

Q: Is it permissible to fly the Flag of the United States during inclement weather? A: The Flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather Flag is displayed (All-weather – nylon or other non-absorbent material).

Q: What do the colors and gold fringe on the American Flag mean? A: Sentimental writers and orators sometimes ascribe meanings to the colors in the Flag.  From the book “Our Flag” published in 1989 by the House of Representatives…”On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution authorizing a committee to devise a seal for the United States of America.  This mission, designed to reflect the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, values, and sovereignty of the new Nation, did not become a reality until June 20, 1782.  In heraldic devices, such as seals, each element has a specific meaning. Even colors have specific meanings. The colors red, white, and blue did not have meanings for The Stars and Stripes when it was adopted in 1777.

However, the colors in the Great Seal did have specific meanings.  Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Seal, stated: “The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the Flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”  The gold trim is generally used on ceremonial indoor Flags that are used for special services and is believed to have been first used in a military setting.  It has no specific significance that I have ever run across, and its (gold trim) use is in compliance with applicable Flag codes and laws.

Q: What is meant by the Flag’s own right? A: The “right” as the position of honor developed from the time when the “right hand” was the “weapon hand” or “point of danger.”  The right hand, raised without a weapon, was a sign of peace.  The right hand, to any observer, is the observer’s left.  Therefore, as used in the Flag Code, the Flag and/or blue field is displayed to the left of the observer, which is the Flag’s “own right.” (ref: Flag Code 7(d),(i)

Q: Can a Flag that has been used to cover a casket be displayed after its original use? A: There are no provisions in the Flag Code to suggest otherwise.  It would be a fitting tribute to the memory of the deceased veteran and their service to a grateful nation if their casket Flag were displayed.

Q: What is the significance of displaying the Flag at half staff? A: This gesture is a sign to indicate the nation mourns the death of an individual(s).  Only the President of the United States or the Governor of the State may order the Flag to be half-staffed. (ref: Flag Code 7(m)

Q: Why is the Flag raised to full staff at noon on Memorial Day?  As far as I know, this is the only occasion that the Flag is not flown at half staff for at least an entire day.  What is the authority for this, i.e. US Code, Presidential Proclamation, etc? A: On Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, the Flag is displayed at half-staff from sunrise until noon then raised to full staff from noon until sunset; for the Nation lives and the Flag is the symbol of the living Nation.  The authority is derived from The Flag Code, Title 36, U.S.C., Chapter 10, as amended by P.L. 344, 94th Congress, approved July 7, 1976; § 175, Position and manner of display, Section (m).  This view is found in many sources of Flag Etiquette, particularly veterans organizations who take very gravely § 176 Respect for Flag, Section (j) which states “…The Flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing…”

Q: Outside my hotel we have 3 flag poles. We normally fly the Corporate Flag, State of New York flag and the American Flag. Would it be proper to remove the flags and fly 1 American Flag on each pole in celebration of the 4th of July?  If so, when until when would be appropriate? A: Yes, it would be proper to fly several or more American Flags lined up in front of your hotel, or lining a drive, etc. The Flag Code says the Flag may be displayed around the clock with proper illumination (and even in inclement weather if your Flag is made of all-weather material).  If you mean by “when until when,” time: without proper illumination, the Flag Code states that it is the universal custom to display the Flag only from sunrise to sunset.  If you mean how many days, that is up to you.  The Flag Code says that the Flag should be displayed on all days, but especially New Year’s Day (January 1), Inauguration Day (January 20), Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12), Washington’s Birthday (3rd Monday in February), Easter Sunday (variable), Mother’s Day (2nd Sunday in May), Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May), Memorial Day (half-staff until noon; the last Monday in May), Flag Day (June 14), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (1st Monday in September), Constitution Day (September 17), Columbus Day (2nd Monday in October), Navy Day (October 27), Veterans Day (November 11), Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November), Christmas Day (December 25), and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the birthday of your state on its date of admission (New York is July 26); and on state holidays.


Q: When the Flag is not flown from a staff, how should it be displayed? A: It should be displayed vertically, whether indoors or out, and suspended so that its folds fall free as though the Flag were staffed.  The stripes may be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the Flag’s own right; that is, to the observer’s left.  When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the Flag should be displayed in the same way; that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street. (Ref Flag Code 7(i))

Q: I heard that you can be put on a list to receive a Flag from the White House that they change every day.  I wonder if you can help me get on that list or how to go about it. A: Please see a form you can copy and submit on our Educational Resources page.

Q: I was looking for the year of our earliest American Flag. My family came to America from England in 1589.  My first American grandfather was born that year.  I was wondering if we had been here longer than the Flag. A: Yes, you have!  In 1492, the First recorded use of a flag in the New World took place when Christopher Columbus stepped ashore in the West Indies on the island of San Salvador; he carried the flag of Spain.  This flag was carried to the mainland of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513.  Your grandfather came from England at this point in the story in 1589.  The English flag played a significant role in the evolution of our present-day flag.  Known as the Cross of St. George, it was the banner carried by the colonists to Jamestown in 1607 and to Plymouth in 1620.  It consisted of a broad red cross on a pure white field. With the union of England and Scotland in 1707, the English flag changed to reflect that union; the Union Jack was approved by Queen Anne, and is still Britain’s flag today.

In the early days of the Republic, when the Thirteen Original States were still British Colonies, the banners borne by the Revolutionary forces were widely varied, but the Grand Union flag became the official flag of the United Colonies.  George Washington displayed this flag over his headquarters: it consisted of the Union Jack in the canton and 13 stripes representing the original colonies.  Many local flags and colonial devices were displayed in battle on land and sea during the first months of the American Revolution and carried the various grievances that the individual states had against the Mother Country.

After July 4, 1776, the people of the colonies felt the need of a national flag to symbolize their new spirit of unity and independence.  The resolution adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on June 14, 1777, is as follows: “Resolved: that the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”  Visit our website’s educational pages to follow our Flag’s evolution from there.

Q: What is the proper method for folding the Flag? A: The Flag Code does not require any specific method, however, there is a tradition that has developed over time.  This method produces a triangular shaped form like that of a three corner hat with only the blue union showing.

Q: My mother was presented the Flag at my father’s memorial service last month.  We are purchasing a case to put the Flag in to keep it protected when it isn’t being flown.  Our question is this: If we pull out part of the Flag so the stars and the stripes both show in the case are we violating proper flag etiquette?  This is very important to us and we would like to do what is right. A: Interestingly, the Flag Code does not require that the Flag need be folded.  Hence what you propose would not be considered a breach of flag etiquette.  However, people who are familiar with the use of the flag case will question this as most are accustomed to only the union being displayed when the Flag is folded in the traditional manner.

Q: I am looking into a bit of military lore that says there is a pair of scissors atop the main flagpole at each military installation so that if the base is ever overrun, a service member can climb the pole and cut the Flag to pieces so that it doesn’t fall into enemy hands.  Legend has it there is a pistol buried six paces from the flagpole so the unlucky service member can shoot himself afterward.  Was there ever a requirement that the Flag not fall into enemy hands at all costs. A: Yes? No? Maybe? This bit of whimsy has been around for many years.  There are no regulations anywhere that require either (1) a pair of scissors hidden in the flagpole finial; (2) a loaded firearm buried six paces from said flagpole, or (3) both.  And there is certainly no regulation that a member of the armed forces be required to “eat the gun” after lowering the Flag.  It makes for a heck of a story and wonderful subject for conjecture, but it just isn’t true: none of it.

Q: Do you have any resources available such as brochures, etc. that could be handed out as part of a Flag retirement ceremony being done by Boy Scouts and open to the general public? A: That’s a great ceremony!  We don’t, but The American Legion posts in your area will be happy to supply you with some items under their “Americanism” program.  Give them a call and see what they have available.  If you need help locating a post in your area, log onto www.legion.org and look for their post locater page.

Q: I hope you can help me in finding out a question on the United States Flag and who can receive one?  I’m with a VFW organization in Washington state and the one question I cannot find out about is what government regulation covers the right on who can receive a Flag that is folded and in a case.  I know any person in the Military that has retired and the family members of a deceased veteran.  This is probably a little unusual for this type of Flag question. A: No, it’s a good question and we’ve had it before, in variations.  The answer is that anyone can receive a folded Flag in a case.  In fact, anyone may have their casket draped with an American Flag.  But this honor is usually reserved for veterans or highly regarded State and National Figures.  The Flag Code does not prohibit this use.  However, only a veteran can get a free Flag: The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a Flag for a deceased veteran upon request.  You may apply for the Flag by completing VA Form 21-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes.  You may get a Flag at any VA regional office or U.S. Post Office.  Generally, the funeral director will help you obtain the Flag.

Q: Are you required to destroy the Flag if it touches the ground? A: Flag Code section 176b states that the Flag should not touch anything beneath it such as the ground.  This is stated to indicate that care should be exercised in the handling of the Flag, to protect it from becoming soiled or damaged.  You ARE NOT required to destroy the Flag when this happens.  As long as the Flag remains suitable for display, even if washing or dry-cleaning (which is acceptable practice) is required, you may continue to display the Flag as a symbol of our great country. (ref: Flag Code 8(b))


Q: Could you tell us where we can send our Flags for proper disposal?  We have two that are torn and tattered from weather. Could you answer that?  Could you recommend someone? Thanks. A: Almost all American Legion posts conduct Flag Disposal Ceremonies, and some have “recycled” mailboxes outside their door for the community to deposit old and worn-out Flags, without having to go inside the building, for convenience.  Look up your community on www.legion.org to find several posts near you.

Q: Can the Flag be washed or dry-cleaned? A: Yes. There are no provisions of the Flag Code which prohibits such care.  The decision on whether to wash or dry-clean would be dependent on the material.

Q: What are the penalties for the physical desecration of the Flag? A: There are currently no penalties for the physical desecration of the Flag.

Q: In 4 USC Section 6, Statute E, it says that the “Flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.”  Is there a consequence for those that do not comply, i.e., if a refusal to fly the Flag is given, can they be compelled? A: Thank you for your e-mail relating to enforcement of section 6 of title 4, United States Code, relating to display of the U.S. Flag.  The Office of the Law Revision Counsel is primarily responsible for preparing and publishing the United States Code, which contains the general and permanent laws of the United States.  The Office cannot answer questions regarding the interpretation or construction of law or perform legal research or provide legal advice for members of the public.  Accordingly, I regret that I am not able to specifically answer your question.  However, the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress has prepared a report, RL30243 – “The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions”, which might be helpful to you.  You can access it here:  CRS – The United States Flag- Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions.

Q: I did a Flag Day search, trying to find out what Flag Day actually is.  Is it the anniversary of the creation of the American Flag? A: This is a bit lengthy, but the whole story is here!  June 14, 1777 the Stars and Stripes came into being when the Second Continental Congress authorized a new Flag to symbolize the new nation, the United States of America.

The commemoration of this day as the birthday of the Flag, however, developed slowly.  On June 14, 1861 the Stars and Stripes first flew in a Flag Day celebration in Hartford, Connecticut the first summer of the Civil War.

On June 14, 1877, we had the first national observance of Flag Day on the centennial of the original flag resolution.

Then the advocacy for making this the “official” Flag Day began.  In 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand of Wisconsin, a school teacher, observed the Flag birthday with his students.  The following years saw many types of media advocating observing June 14 as Flag Day.  In 1889, George Bolch, a school principal of a free kindergarten for the poor in New York City, planned activities for this date.  Later, the New York State Board of Education adopted the observance of Flag Day.  Then the state legislature passed a law making it an official school program.

In 1893, the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America and the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, and the Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia directed that Flag Day exercises were to be held in Independence Square for all the school children.

In 1894, the Governor of New York directed that all public buildings display the Flag on June 14.  In Chicago, Illinois, the first public school children’s celebration of Flag Day was held simultaneously at Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln and Washington Parks with more than 300,000 children participating.

In 1914, the Secretary of the Interior delivered a personal Flag Day address.  On May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that June 14 was to be observed as National Flag Day.  In 1927, President Coolidge also issued a proclamation that this date was to be observed as National Flag Day.

Finally, August 3, 1949 by Act of Congress, June 14 was designated as Flag Day.  President Harry Truman signed the law the same day.*

(Note: *Other pieces of that law state, “the President is authorized and requested to annually issue a proclamation calling upon all officials of the Government to display the Flag on government buildings, urge all the people to observe the day as an anniversary of the adoption on June 14, 1777 by the Continental Congress of the United States of the Stars and Stripes as the official Flag of the United States of America.”)

Q: I am a coffin manufacturer in England, and a few years ago I produced a coffin for an American with the Flag wrapped around it; the image of the coffin has been displayed on my website.  A new coffin manufacturer is taking me to court for allegedly copying their design; they claim to have unregistered design rights in the American Flag-wrapped coffin.  Is this possible?  I thought you could not make a claim like this about a nation’s Flag.

A: I start with a disclaimer, as I am not an attorney (although an attorney was consulted on, of course, a general basis).   DISCLAIMER: Answers are for general informational purposes only. Information provided in response to your question is not legal advice, as your own personal lawyer would provide, such as helping you to understand how applicable legal principles might apply to your particular situation or proposing a specific course of action. No attorney-client relationship is formed by the exchange of information and communications from this website. This is only general information about the subject-matter of your question, and is not a substitute for professional legal representation.

Comments are from the point of view of English law so any comments will apply to your trading activities in England.

  1. Firstly it is agreed that the American Flag cannot be subject to any form of TM registration;
  2. A unique depiction of the American Flag may be subject to copyright protection if it is an original drawing;
  3. They may have a claim for unregistered design rights. This is a right that automatically subsists in copyright.  For unregistered design, the design need only be original and not common place in the design field in question.
  4. Under English law if you create your own depiction of the American Flag, then you may be able to claim your own unregistered design right.

It is also agreed that no one can claim exclusive use of the American Flag, certainly under English Law anyway.  I hope this has helped you find an answer.