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Flag Display: What Every Jurisdiction Should Know


May 10, 2017 by Jill Dvorkin
Category: Flag Display

Flag Display: What Every Jurisdiction Should Know

Old Glory, The Stars and Stripes, The Red, White, and Blue, The Star-Spangled Banner… whatever your favorite nickname, our country’s flag is a living symbol of our nation and its ideals.

Most of us are aware that there are certain rules and etiquette to follow when flying the U.S. and Washington State flags, but what are they exactly and to whom do they apply? MRSC’s Flag Display topic page sets out what local governments need to know regarding flag display. I’ll summarize those rules and etiquette in this blog post, and highlight some important dates to keep in mind when it comes to flying these flags. Finally, I’ll close with some fun facts about our state’s many official symbols.

Federal law provides protocols for flying the American flag, and state law provides some specific requirements for displaying the U.S., Washington State, and prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) flags at municipal or government buildings. Beyond that, the display of any flag is discretionary.

Statutory Requirements for Flag Display

  • Code Cities: Code cities must prominently install, display, and maintain the U.S. and Washington State flags on city buildings (RCW 35A.21.180).
  • All Cities, Towns, and Counties: Every city, town, and county must display the U.S. flag, the Washington State flag, and the POW/MIA flag upon or near its principal building on the following days (RCW 1.20.017):
    • April 9 (Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day)
    • March 30 (Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day)
    • Third Saturday in May (Armed Forces Day)
    • Last Monday in May (Memorial Day)
    • June 14 (Flag Day)
    • July 4 (Independence Day)
    • July 27 (Korean War Veterans Armistice Day)
    • Third Friday in September (POW/MIA Recognition Day)
    • November 11 (Veterans’ Day)
    • December 7 (Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day)
    • (Note: If the designated day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the POW/MIA flag will be displayed on the preceding Friday. See RCW 1.20.017(1))
  • Municipal, District, and Superior Courts: The U.S. and Washington State flags must be prominently installed, displayed, and maintained in court rooms (RCW 1.20.015).

Flag Display Etiquette

The display of the American flag should generally follow the protocol in the United States Flag Code (4 U.S.C. Ch. 1). However, courts have interpreted the Flag Code to be advisory only and there are no penalties for violating it.

In particular, the Flag Code states that:

  • The U.S. flag should be displayed every day of the year, except on days of inclement weather, on or near the main administration building of every public institution.
  • It is custom to fly the U.S. flag only during daylight hours, but it may be flown permanently if properly illuminated at night.
  • The U.S. flag should fly in the highest position of honor, and no flag may be flown higher.
  • The U.S. flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

According to the Washington Secretary of State, the Washington State flag should be displayed in the highest position of honor after the U.S. flag and the flags of any other nations. It should be displayed in a higher position of honor than the flags of other states, counties, cities, or any other entity. For complete details on care, display, and use, see the Washington Secretary of State’s webpage on the state flag.

When the U.S., Washington State, and POW/MIA flags are flown on a single pole, the U.S. Flag is on top followed by the state flag then the POW/MIA flag. If there are two poles, the POW/MIA flag is flown under the U.S. flag while the state flag is on the pole to the left. For more information, see the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs' POW/MIA Flag Display webpage. 

Additional Considerations

There are certain times when the U.S. and state flags are flown at half-staff. While there is no official guidance on when local governments must lower the U.S. and state flags, it is customary to follow the lead of the state and federal government. For more, visit our topic page.

While we aren’t aware of many local governments who have done so, local governments may adopt their own flag display policies (see our topic page for examples). If your jurisdiction would like to do so, we recommend working with your local American Legion or other veterans’ organizations.

Fun Facts

In addition to a state flag, did you know that Washington has a state insect, a state fossil, a state oyster, a state dance, a state gem, a state vegetable, a state endemic mammal, a state tartan, and a state folk song, among other things?

(Answers: the common green darner dragonfly; the Columbian mammoth of North America; Ostrea lurida; the square dance; petrified wood; the Walla Walla onion; the Olympic marmot; green with multiple-colored stripes; and Roll On Columbia, Roll On.)

About Jill Dvorkin

Jill joined MRSC as a legal consultant in June 2016 after working for nine years as a civil deputy prosecuting attorney for Skagit County. At Skagit County, Jill advised the planning department on a wide variety of issues including permit processing and appeals, Growth Management Act (GMA) compliance, code enforcement, SEPA, legislative process, and public records. Jill was born and raised in Fargo, ND, then moved to Bellingham to attend college and experience a new part of the country (and mountains!). She earned a B.A. in Environmental Policy and Planning from Western Washington University and graduated with a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003.

VIEW ALL POSTS BY Jill Dvorkin

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Comments

"Might be helpful to provide guidance on flags that are no longer in good condition: when to replace, what to do with old flags, etc."

Michael Jacobson on May 18, 2017 11:07 AM

"Tom - Thank you for your comment. We've updated the blog post to address the proper display of the POW/MIA flag, as laid out by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs' POW/MIA flag display webpage. http://www.dva.wa.gov/about-wdva/pow-mia-flag-display. Thank you again for bringing this issue to our attention."

Jill Dvorkin on May 11, 2017 4:14 PM

"You didn't address the proper display of the POW-MIA flag. This is an issue that has come up several times at meetings of our county commissioners. According the VA, that flag should fly above the state flag. I agree. https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/powmia.pdf"

Tom Thiersch on May 10, 2017 2:29 PM

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