What Happens When You Touch The American Flag

What Happens When You Touch The American Flag

What Happens When You Touch The American Flag

American Flag Etiquette: Consequences of Improper Handling

The American flag, a symbol of national pride and unity, holds immense significance for the citizens of the United States. The reverence and respect accorded to the flag are not only a matter of custom but also governed by established laws and regulations. Defacing or mishandling the flag can result in legal penalties and social disapproval.

Legal Implications

The United States Flag Code, enacted in 1923, outlines the proper protocol for displaying, handling, and storing the American flag. While it does not explicitly impose criminal penalties for improper use, it does establish a set of guidelines that, if violated, may lead to civil penalties and sanctions.

For example, Section 7(c) of the Flag Code states that "The flag should not be displayed on articles of merchandise or clothing." Individuals or businesses that violate this provision by, for instance, selling t-shirts or hats adorned with the flag, may face legal action from the government or private organizations.

Additionally, Section 10 of the Flag Code prohibits the burning or destruction of the American flag. Such acts are considered desecration and can be prosecuted under federal law. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. However, many states have enacted their own laws against flag burning, which carry varying degrees of penalties.

Social Consequences

Beyond legal implications, improper handling of the American flag can also result in social disapproval and criticism. The flag is a powerful symbol of national identity, and any perceived disrespect towards it can evoke strong emotions. Individuals who engage in flag misuse may face public backlash, ridicule, or social ostracism.

In 2016, an incident at a high school football game in Ohio sparked outrage when cheerleaders were photographed with the stars of the American flag resting on the ground. The act was widely condemned as disrespectful and resulted in the cheerleaders being suspended from their team.

As another example, in 2020, a group of protesters were caught on camera trampling on the American flag during a demonstration. The footage went viral and generated widespread backlash, with many people expressing disgust and anger at the protesters’ actions.

Proper Flag Care and Disposal

To uphold the dignity and respect of the American flag, it is crucial to adhere to proper care and disposal practices:

Display: The flag should be displayed at all times when the weather permits, either horizontally or vertically. It should be clean, without any tears or stains.

Folding: When not displayed, the flag should be folded in a triangular shape, known as the "tri-fold." The blue field should be folded uppermost, with the white and red stripes alternating below.

Storage: The flag should be stored in a dry, clean place, protected from the elements and excessive heat. A proper flag storage box is recommended.

Disposal: Worn or faded flags should be disposed of respectfully. The traditional method is to burn the flag privately, with dignity and proper ceremony. Alternatively, the flag can be donated to a veterans organization or similar group who specializes in the proper disposal of flags.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I fold the flag into any shape I want?

A: No, the flag should only be folded in the traditional tri-fold described above.

Q: Can I use the flag as a tablecloth or a bedspread?

A: No, the flag should not be used for any non-flag related purpose.

Q: Is it disrespectful to wear clothing with the American flag design?

A: While it is not illegal, some people may view it as disrespectful to wear the flag on clothing.

Q: What should I do if I see someone mishandling the flag?

A: You can politely approach the person and offer to assist them with proper flag etiquette. If the situation escalates, you may contact the authorities.


The American flag is a cherished symbol that represents the nation’s history, values, and unity. Respecting and adhering to proper flag etiquette is a demonstration of patriotism and a way to uphold the dignity of the flag. By understanding and following the established guidelines, individuals can avoid any legal or social repercussions associated with improper flag handling.


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