In the case of the American flag, yes, it is illegal. The US Flag Code states that it is illegal to fly the US flag at night without adequate light.
The American flag code is part of federal law. Each state using it as a foundation for its own specific flag codes regarding the handling and display of the American flag.
So, if you wish to fly Old Glory after dark, you’ll have to light her up. If not, you’ll risk falling foul of the law. The Federal code has no penalty inclusions for infringements of the code, but state laws certainly do.
Fortunately, there are many affordable and easily implemented choices for all-weather flag pole lighting. These include above-ground mounted directional spotlights, below-grade uplights, and dedicated pole mount lighting.
In keeping with modern energy-saving trends, all these fittings typically utilize high-efficiency, low-current LED luminaires. Of course, as an additional benefit, many of these are using a solar panels.
And a well and tastefully illuminated flagpole make an awe-inspiring aesthetic landscaping feature in any setting.
The Legal Aspects of Lighting Your Flagpole: The Federal Flag Code in Summary
The flag code was written into Federal law on December 22nd, 1942 (chapter 1 of title 4 of the United States Code). This code governs how the flag is used, displayed, and handles. And it covers points as not letting the flag touch the ground and how and when you should wash it.
According to the American Legion, the part of the code that addresses flying the flag after dark reads, and we quote, “It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when we desire a patriotic effect, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”.
In addition, the flag code. according to Cornell Law School, defines proper illumination is, and again we quote, “as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.” Strictly speaking, you should be able to recognize the flag day and night clearly.
In essence, the code’s guideline can interpret as meaning lighting up the American flag to be clearly and unmistakably recognizable as the living symbol.
To ensure you keep your US flag flying right, view the complete US flag code here.
How to Make Sure Your American Flag Is Properly Illuminated?
There are many ways to get your flag to fly legally at night. We will cover these in more detail in a supplemental article. They include:
- Ambient lighting
- Above-ground spot or flood lighting
- Below-grade uplighting
- Integrated flagpole lights
Let’s look at each briefly.
If the area of your property where your flagpole is located features strong landscape lighting, that may be enough to meet the code’s requirements. This ambient lighting could come courtesy of existing AC or solar lamp posts, floodlights, step lighting, or even street lighting.
Above-Ground Spot or Flood Lighting
This type of lighting will illuminate the flag diagonally. It typically requires more than one fitting to get the job done properly. Most spike-mount directional spots or floodlights are ideal for illuminating your flag at night. You’ll have to apply some science and trial and error to the number of lights you use and their placement.
These lighting solutions are typically disc lights that are mounted flush or below ground or lawn level. They would illuminate the flag vertically, and again, would take some experimentation to get the right balance.
Integrated Flagpole Lights
Integrated flagpole lights are excellent options for lighting up the Star-Spangled Banner and meeting the requirements of flag etiquette. These are essentially solar-power LED downlights that mount at the top of the flag pole and illuminate the flag in a downwards vertical direction.
Implementing Your Flagpole Lighting
For the most part, home and business owners are increasingly inclining to opt for cost-saving and environmentally friendly lighting solutions. In the case of lighting up your American flag and keeping your nose clean with the law, you’re spoiling for choice.
There is a wide range of low-current AC lighting and excellent solar outdoor lights on the market, ideal for flagpole lighting. You only need to choose an option that best suits your existing landscape lighting setup and aesthetic preferences.
Do All Countries Have a Flag Code?
Most flags of national origin do. It would be sound practice to find out what flag laws your country of residence have before flying that national flag.
Do the American Flag Code Lighting Requirements Apply to Any Other Flags?
No, they don’t. The Federal code for flag use does not advise on, restrict or control the handling and use of any other flag other than the U.S. flag.
Note: However, many state and local laws apply to flagpole installations that may require the installation of warning lights in the case of very high flagpole installations.
Flagpole Lighting and the FAA
Although the lighting for the average residential or business flagpole will not pose any significant aviation risks or issues, there could be exceptions you need to be mindful of.
If your business or residence is close to an airport, powerful uplighting can cause distractions or even visual interference for pilots. This is especially true if your home is located in line with the airport’s runway headings or within the approach patterns.
If you do live close to an airport, it would be an excellent idea to swing around. Discuss this with someone before installing any lighting that is in any way vertically orientates.
The Flagpole Lighting Takeaway
The low down on this question is that it is illegal to fly the U.S. flag at night without light governed by federal law. And failing to comply with those laws is illegal. And those laws clearly state that the flag must be adequately illuminating after sundown. Not only does that ensure proper showing of respect to Old Glory. But it may even prevent you from having to make coffee for a couple of state troopers!
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