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Recent high-profile sporting events left me wondering about the protocol for the National Anthem, like the one for the Pledge of Allegiance in the U.S. Flag Code.

The protocol for the Pledge of Allegiance is laid out in the Flag code Section 4

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “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.”, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. (Italics are mine.)

Orioles Players

The Search Begins

Easy enough, but what about protocol for the National Anthem? I began at Google and started searching and discovered a lot of information that couldn’t be verified. I kept digging.

I located one site that “claimed” to quote the U.S. Flag Code as found on the American Legion website. It contained a section that wasn’t in my copy of the U.S. Flag Code, so I went to the American Legion website to see which version of the Flag Code they were using. It turned out they are using the same one I am, and there is no reference to the National Anthem contained in the Flag Code.

I did find a section on the Legion site titled National Anthem and it did reference the U.S. Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 171 for the proper protocol. Then to confirm, I went to the U.S. Government site containing the United States Codes and dug into Title 36.

This brought up the next hurdle. There was no Chapter 10. WHAT?

More digging …


EUREKA! The research paid off in a big way and here is what I located.

          • Section 301–National Anthem

Sec. 301. National anthem

(a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music
known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.–During a rendition of the national
(1) when the flag is displayed–
(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at
attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with
their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder,
the hand being over the heart; and
(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute
at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until
the last note; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face
toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag
were displayed.

There it is. The elusive National Anthem protocol. Now when you attend that next concert, ball game, or school event, you will know the proper conduct when they begin playing the Star Spangled Banner.

Rest of Chapter 3

Here is the rest of the information in this Chapter of the United States Code.

Sec. 302. National motto

“In God we trust” is the national motto.

Sec. 303. National floral emblem

The flower commonly known as the rose is the national floral emblem.

Sec. 304. National march

The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is the national march.

309 Responses to “Protocol for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance”

  1. Hossain mohammed says:

    I am a Bangladeshi living in Italy. Can I arrange a ceremony in a perk or audotorium where all Bangladeshis gathered will sing Bangladesh National Anthem? Is it allowed in Italy (or any country) to sing formally national Anthem of one country (Bangladesh) in another country (Italy) in a function which is not arranged by Italian authorities or the Embassy of Bangladesh?



  2. Thank you so much for searching and finding my website. I can’t help you much, because I don’t know anything about the proper etiquette for an event like this in Italy. Perhaps you could ask your local representative to the city counsel for advice. But I would be very surprised if you were told no, and it would be polite and prudent to sing the Italian national anthem along with the Bangladeshi anthem also, since that is where you a living now.
    Best wishes, and I hope you have a lovely ceremony. Deborah Hendrick

  3. Bill May says:

    As a former 2LT who was taught by the US Army exactly as you have on your website, I thank you for publishing this information.

  4. Thank you Bill, for your kind words. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  5. Kathy says:

    Thank you for clearing this up. I was at a patriotic concert Friday night and from what I could see, the audience saluted properly during the Pledge of Allegiance, however so many dropped their hands during the National Anthem that I second guessed my raising! My husband, children, and I stayed at attention (although I’m not sure that we were facing the flag) along with about half the audience.
    What is the protocol during a parade when several of the floats passing by are playing the National Anthem?

  6. Kathy—AAarrgh! The National Anthem should never be “played” from a moving float. Of course, all you can do is stand and salute as appropriate—as the “float” passes by, but I hope you would note who did this, and approach them in private (face to face, if possible) to explain to them that this is not proper respect for the Anthem. Refer them to me if necessary.

    As it happens, the National Anthem Code is not found in the same part of the U.S. Code as the “Flag Code,” so too many people do not know what is required. A letter to the editor of the local newspaper is always useful, too. Here is a link you can reference: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title36/html/USCODE-2011-title36-subtitleI-partA-chap3-sec301.htm

    Thank you for writing, Kathy.
    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  7. Joshua Sanders says:

    I’m a Webelos Den Leader and I want to make sure that the proper way is done at each meeting for my boys. I have a portable flag that “waves” in the wind and also plays “my country tis of thee”, “stars and stripes” and the “star spangled banner”. Should my boys be saluting for the anthem or the anthem and the march?

  8. Hi Joshua. Thank you for writing, because you have asked an important question.

    The only musical composition we salute is the National Anthem. I yell at the television a lot because during the seventh inning stretch I see people saluting “God Bless America.” No. I love God Bless America, but we salute only the National Anthem. It is important for the boys to understand that we are saluting the Anthem itself, even as we salute to the flag. We salute the Anthem even if we can’t see a flag. (Whereas the Pledge of Allegiance is recited only in the presence of the flag.)

    And the National Anthem should never be combined in a medley with other patriotic songs. It is always performed alone. I suspect your musical device lets you choose, so that’s ok.

    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  9. Joshua Sanders says:

    Thank you so much for the response. My device does indeed only play the songs one at a time. It also plays Stars and Stripes which is the national march. Would the boys salute for that as well?

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