Flag Etiquette

Paul Sanderson

Many municipal officials receive complaints about how the United States flag and the State of New Hampshire flag are displayed at municipal offices or in other locations in the municipality. Hopefully the following sources will assist in both answering the critics, and preventing incorrect display of the flag.

Q. Where can we find the rules and regulations that control proper display of the flag?

A.  As to state law, there are two provisions. First is RSA 3-E, which has three provisions. It states that the display of the flag shall be in accordance with federal law, and it requires the governor to order the flag to be flown at half staff in the event of the death of any member of the armed forces who dies in combat and who is a resident of New Hampshire. The flag shall be flown at half staff the day of and the day after the service member's burial. Further it requires the governor to issue a standing order that when any fallen service member is on a military reservation within the state of New Hampshire, that reservation will automatically fly the United States flag at half staff until the fallen service member is no longer within the confines of the military reservation. Finally, it prohibits municipalities from adopting regulations to prohibit the display of the flag at a private residence, other than to regulate the size of the flag and the manner in which it is displayed. New Hampshire does, by statute, require the display of the flag during the actual conduct of elections. See RSA 658:9.

Q. Where are the federal laws on the subject?

A.  The United States flag code is codified at 4 U.S.C. sections 1 through 10, as amended. That law, together with the provisions of RSA 3-E are the flag code for the state of New Hampshire.  There is also a comprehensive report to the Congress on the customs of proper flag display, which is available online. http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf

Q. We have been told that the law requires the display of the flag outside every municipal building. Is this correct?

A. As noted in the above report to Congress:

“The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building

of every public institution.


The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.”

This is the exact language found at 4 U.S.C. Section 6(e) and (f). Thus, it is not mandatory to display the flag at any public building, and is only recommended at the “main administration building”.  If additional sites of display are desired, it can be done, but is not required.

Q. We understand that there are many additional customs regarding the display in specific locations, and in specific situations. Where can we find these provisions?

A. Yes, there are many additional customs. They are found at 4 U.S.C Section 7, and are highlighted and explained in the above noted report to Congress.  Some of the most frequently asked relate to whether the flag may be flown overnight (yes, if lighted and not enveloped in darkness); whether it may be flown in inclement weather (yes, if of a material with sufficient durability to survive the weather); when it can be flown at half staff (upon the order of the President of the United States, or a state Governor, although a half staff display at a private residence is not a violation of the flag code); and how a worn flag should be destroyed (by completely burning the material and burying the ashes).

Paul Sanderson is Staff Attorney for the New Hampshire Municipal Association.  He may be contacted at 800.852.3358 ext. 3408 or at legalinquiries@nhmunicipal.org.

Article Topics: