Myth #7: A flag that touches the ground must be destroyed
What is the Flag Code?
The Flag Code is a set of flag etiquette guidelines developed in 1923 by the American Legion and other organizations. It instructs when the flag should be displayed; manners and methods of displaying it; and buildings where it should be raised. There are detailed specifications for displaying the flag at half-staff and even how to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Flag Code was adopted by Congress in 1942, but it does not have an enforcement mechanism, and there are no flag police. States have attempted to punish people who disrespect the flag. However, their efforts were struck down by the Supreme Court as free-speech violations.
Sources: The American Legion and the Congressional Research Service
According to the Flag Code, the American flag should never touch anything beneath it, including the ground, the floor or the water. “People have taken that to mean that if it ever does that, then it should be destroyed,” said Jeff Hendricks, deputy director of Americanism at the American Legion.
However, that's not necessarily the case. Flags should be destroyed only when they are no longer in good enough condition to be displayed. If touching the ground didn't render the flag unfit for display, then it shouldn't be destroyed. Once a flag is unfit for display, burning it is the preferred method of destruction.
Myth #8: The flag should never be flown at night
Although it's customary to display the American flag from sunrise to sunset, the flag can be displayed 24 hours a day as long as it is illuminated through the night, according to the Flag Code.
"What we've taken that to mean is that it must have sufficient light that the average passerby can readily identify it as the flag of the United States,” Hendricks said.
Myth #9: Only a veteran's coffin can be draped with the American flag
"Nowhere in [the Flag Code] does it say that the flag may only cover the casket of a veteran,” said Hendricks, noting that the myth may stem from the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides flags for the services of veterans and active-duty service members. “However, there's nothing in the language of the Flag Code that would prevent anyone else from having a flag that covers their casket."
When a flag is used to cover a coffin, it should be placed with the union — the blue field with stars — at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
Myth #10: The flag must always be folded into a triangle for storage
Folding a flag into a triangle for storage, with only the blue union and stars visible, is part of tradition, said Hendricks, not a requirement of the Flag Code. Flags on a staff are properly stored in an entirely different manner that doesn't involve folding.
"Flags that are affixed to a staff are typically rolled around the staff and then a burlap case is placed over the flag and staff,” he said. “So, at that point, you can handle it like luggage. It's been properly stored."
Myth #11: A flag with fewer than 50 stars should not be flown
Any American flag that was officially recognized during its time is still considered a living flag and should be respected, regardless of the number of stars on it. These flags can continue to be flown until they become unserviceable. It's important to note that whenever a new state is admitted into the United States, one star should be added to the flag on the next Fourth of July following the admission.
Editor’s note: This article, originally published July 2, 2020, has been updated with additional information.