Your July 4th decorations likely violate US flag code. How to properly care for the flag

The Fourth of July, come rain or shine in Indiana, happens Thursday. By now you might be stocking up on American flag-themed paper plates, napkins, T-shirts, swimsuits and the like.

If so, congratulations! You’re violating the flag code.

Chances are most Hoosiers have violated United States Flag Code, with an uptick of infractions occurring on Independence Day as well as the Indy 500.

What is the U.S. Flag Code?

The code, approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, provides guidelines for the display and care of the flag. Its most prolific section is on how to properly respect the flag, where it advises Americans to never let the flag touch the ground and to never display it with the union down.


Here’s which rules to take into account before you buy your Fourth of July décor.

U.S. flag code outlines rules for flag-themed décor, clothing

  • The flag should not be used as a form of clothing, bedding or drapery.
  • Do not use the flag as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never be used as a vessel for carrying or delivering anything.
  • The flag should not be printed on paper napkins, paper plates or anything that is designed to be discarded.
  • No part of the flag should be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

The rules clarify that military personnel, firefighters, police officers and members of patriotic organizations can pin flag patches to their uniforms, specifically on the left lapel near the heart.

How to display the American flag

Here’s how the U.S. Flag should be displayed based on the code:

  • When the U.S. flag is hung on a wall of any kind, it should be laid flat to avoid folds in the fabric.
  • When suspended over a street, the flag should be hung with the union facing north or east according to the direction of the street.
  • Never display the flag with the union down unless you are signaling distress.
  • When hanging the flag somewhere, do not let it touch the ground.
  • If displaying the U.S. flag on a staff alongside other flags, the U.S. flag must be positioned at the top of the staff.
  • No other flag may be flown above or to the right of the U.S. flag, except at the United Nations headquarters.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as apparel, bedding or drapery. It should always be allowed to fall free. Decoration bunting of blue, white, and red should always appear with the blue arranged above with the white in the middle and the red below.
  • The flag should never be displayed, fastened, stored or used in a way that could lead to the flag being easily damaged, soiled or torn in any way.
  • The flag should never have any design, drawing of any nature, figure, insignia, letter, mark, picture or word placed upon it.
  • The flag should never be used for any kind of advertising purposes, and advertising signs should not be fastened to a flag’s staff or halyard. The flag should also not be embroidered on items such as cushions, handkerchiefs and the like, impressed on paper napkins or boxes or otherwise printed as a design for temporary use and discard.
  • Any part of the flag should never be used as an athletic uniform or costume, but a flag patch may be sewn to the uniforms of firemen, members of patriotic organizations, military personnel and policemen. Representing a living country and considered a living thing in itself, a lapel flag pin being a replica should be worn near the heart on the left lapel.
  • When the flag is in such a condition that it is no longer fitting for display, the flag’s destruction should be dignified. The preferred disposal is by burning.

Is damaging, defacing the U.S. flag illegal in Indiana?

Yes. According to Indiana’s legal code, a person “who knowingly or intentionally mutilates, defaces, burns, or tramples any U.S. flag, standard, or ensign commits flag desecration.” It’s a Class A misdemeanor in the Hoosier state, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail with a fine not to exceed $5,000.

Chris Sims is a digital producer for the Journal Star. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisFSims.

John Tufts covers trending news for IndyStar and Midwest Connect. Send him a news tip at Follow him on Twitter at JTuftsReports

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