How to Properly Salute the American Flag

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How to Properly Salute the American Flag. The etiquette and history of the American Pledge of Allegiance.

Believe it or not, the clothing you wear affects how to properly salute the flag. Civilians should place their right hands over their hearts, except when wearing athletic clothing, in which case they should remove their hats and stand at attention. No hand salute is necessary. Civilian men wearing hats should remove the hat and hold it at their left shoulder, with hand over heart. Aliens should simply stand at attention. Of course, those in uniform should render the military salute.

When the flag is moving, as in a parade, it is proper to salute when it is six paces in front of you and hold the salute until it passes six paces beyond. During the playing of the National Anthem, the salute to the flag begins with the first note and continues until the song has ended. Even when a flag is not on display during the playing of the anthem, it is still proper to face the music and salute as if it were actually there.

The Pledge of Allegiance
The pledge was originally penned for a public school program celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Originally published anonymously in the September 8th issue of The Youth's Companion, a leading family periodical of its day, authorship is generally credited to Francis Bellamy, who worked at the magazine.

The pledge wasn't always said with the right hand over the heart, but rather in the so-called "Bellamy Salute" -- hand resting outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body. After Adolph Hitler came to power in Europe, many Americans became concerned that the Bellamy salute too closely resembled the Nazi military salute, so congress established the current practice of reciting the pledge with the right hand over the heart in 1942.

More than 12 million children recited the Pledge of Allegiance on the historic Columbus Day of 1892, just like children all over the country still recite the pledge today?well, almost.

The language slightly evolved over the years.

The Pledge of Allegiance originally read:
" I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The words " the flag of the United States" replaced " my flag " in 1923. A year later, the word "of America" were added after "United States."

The new wording took away the possibility of foreign-born people saluting the flag of their birth country, instead of the United States flag.

The final change in the pledge's language came on Flag Day 1954, when Congress passed the law that added the words "under God" after "one nation."

The Pledge of Allegiance now reads:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America; and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The pledge, in any of its variations, never received formal recognition from congress until it was officially adopted into the U.S. Flag Code on Flag Day of 1942, however, the official name "The Pledge of Allegiance" wasn't adopted until 1945.

It only took one year after recognizing the pledge before the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it.


In addition to being editor of this website, Cheri Sicard is the author is The Great American Handbook (2002, Berkley Trade)

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