American Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

American Flag
Pixabay

Many of our readers ask about American flag etiquette and the U.S. Flag Code. Here is a list of rules and guidelines for displaying the American flag and treating it with proper respect.

On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution, later amended on December 22, 1942, that encompassed what has come to be known as the U.S. Flag Code. 

Perhaps the most important guideline involves how citizens should behave around the Stars and Stripes: The flag of the United States is the emblem of our identity as a sovereign nation, which the United States of America has been for more than 200 years. Therefore, citizens are asked to stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered.

How to Properly Display the American Flag

  • The custom is to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open, but it may be displayed at night upon special occasions to produce a patriotic effect.

  • When the flag is hung vertically on a wall, window, or door, the Union (blue section) should be to the observer’s left. When the flag is hung either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the Union should be to the observer’s left.

  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

  • The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement.

  • The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on

        New Year’s Day, January 1
        Inauguration Day, January 20
        Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
        Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
        Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
        Easter Sunday (variable)
        Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
        Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
        Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
        Flag Day, June 14
        Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
        Independence Day, July 4
        Labor Day, first Monday in September
        Constitution Day, September 17
        Columbus Day, second Monday in October
        Navy Day, October 27
        Veterans Day, November 11
        Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
        Christmas Day, December 25
        and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
        the birthdays of States (date of admission)
        and on State holidays.

  • The flag should be displayed at every public institution and in or near every polling place on election days, and at schoolhouses during school days.

  • In a procession, the American flag should be to the right of any other flag or, if in a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.

  • The flag should not be displayed on a float except from a staff, nor draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle.

  • When the flag is displayed on a vehicle, the staff should be fixed firmly to the chassis.

  • No other flag should be placed above the American flag or, if they are to be placed on the same level, to the right of the American flag.

  • The United Nations flag may not be displayed above or in a position of superior prominence to the United States flag except at United Nations Headquarters.

  • The flag, when displayed with another against a wall—both from crossed staffs—should be on the right (the flag’s own right), and its staff should be in front of the other staff.

  • The American flag should be at the center and the highest point when displayed with a group of state flags.

  • When flags of states, cities, etc., are flown on the same halyard, the American flag should be at the peak.

  • When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height, and the American flag should be hoisted first and lowered last.

  • When displayed from a staff projecting from a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff.

  • When the flag is displayed otherwise than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out; or so suspended that its folds fall as freely as though the flag were staffed.

  • When displayed over a street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.

  • On a platform, the flag should be above and behind the speaker, with the union uppermost and to the observer’s left.

  • When displayed from a staff in a church or auditorium, the flag should occupy the position of honor and be placed at the speaker’s right as he faces the audience.

  • When flown at half-staff, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to half-staff position. It should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. Half-staff is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. The flag must be flown at half-staff on all buildings on the death of any officer listed below, for the period indicated:

    • For the President or a former President: 30 days from the date of death.
    • For the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives: 10 days from the day of death.
    • For an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the Cabinet, a former Vice President, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives: From the day of death until interment.
    • For a United States Senator, Representative, Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: the flag should be flown in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia, on the day of death and on the following day; in the state, congressional district, territory, or commonwealth of such Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Commissioner, from the day of death until interment.
    • For a Governor: Within the state, territory, or possession, from the day of death until interment.
  • When the flag is used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder.

American Flags

How Not to Display the American Flag

  • The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing, including government officials—even the President.

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union (stars) down, save as a signal of dire distress.

  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored so that it might be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

  • The flag should never be used as covering for a ceiling.

  • The flag should never have anything placed on it.

  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose, nor embroidered on cushions or handkerchiefs, printed on paper napkins or boxes, nor used as any portion of a costume.

  • When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified and ceremonious fashion, preferably by burning.

Do you have a question regarding displaying or respecting the American flag? Ask us in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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Flag

When the flag is taken down for the day at a public high school. Should it be folded?

If I fly my state flag under

If I fly my state flag under the American flag should it be smaller than the American flag?

Flying a flag from a kite

I have been flying a 3'x5' flag hanging from the string of a kite much to the approval of many Vets. First off, is it appropriate to do so? Second, I do my best to keep the flag from touching the ground but it has hit the ground and once,due to kite failure it crashed in a lake. I was able to get it to shore, picked it up and dragged the rest to shore.
I don't want to offend anyone and don't want to dishonor the flag.
I am considering a larger flag as I am usually flying at 350 ft and a larger flag could be seen from a greater distance. I may lose some control handling the flag on launch and retrieval so that is a concern.

Proper storage of big flag

Have a 25ft by 40ft flag. Was wondering if it would be proper to store in a plastic tote. It’s so big, don’t know if we could fold it properly. We are going to fly it over the highway when the wall gang comes through our town.

Writing on a Flag

Is it appropriate for someone to sign or write on a flag?

Small decorative American Flag

I am an American who lives in Canada. My husband and I live in an apartment building. This morning I noticed the small decorative American Flag I had displayed on our balcony flew off during the night and I found it on the ground. I quickly ran downstairs and got it. I am not sure what to do with it now. I am really bothered by this, and, I want to do the right thing.

Altering the appearance of the flag

Can the flag be altered to sew in an additional color strip?

Mounted drill team all carrying US flags.

At a rodeo a mounted drill team put on a demonstration. All were carrying US flags. What is the correct audience response, ie, should we remove cover and stand during the presentation or is it alright to remain seated and watch the show?

Yard flags

I recently set out several tiny little flags in our yard. Do I need to bring those in when it rains or at night? Thanks!

A good friend made a pole for

A good friend made a pole for us to display our nation's flag...it hangs up off the ground but flows freely as it changes directions with the way the wind is blowing. I hate that we cannot display it at all times. Obviously I do not want it to be damaged by turbulent and stormy weather. If rain is in the forecast for the day, we do not put it out. If the weather is to be clear at night, does it have to have a light shining on it if it is displayed at night?

Sponsored flags

HI My school is doing a field of honor this Flag Day. Parents will be sponsoring a flag for a loved one. We would like to label each flag for who it is sponsored for. I know that I can't put a label on the flag but can I attach a name of the loved one to the flag pole so the families know whose flag is whose? I hope this question is clear. Thank you for your help.
Jolene
Jolene

Flagpole Labels

Yes, that is fine!

Flag size

If we want to fly our yacht club pennant below the American flag, should it be the same size or one size smaller than the American flag?

Flag etiquette regarding food

I work in a supermarket bakery and have been directed to decorate baked goods to look like the flag. Are there any rules of flag etiquette that preclude this?

Light

Are you suppose to have a light shining on the flag at night?

Stars from retired flags

The commander of a VFW cuts the Field of Stars from retired flags. I then cut out the individual stars, glue a printed verse, thanking them for their service to our Country, on the back, put them in small plastic ziplock bags and give them to the Veterans. The response has been overwhelming. I have been told I am not allowed to do this. Can you tell me if it is disrespectful?

Altering the flag

I recently noticed that the symbol f0r Blue Lives Matter is in essence, a discolored American flag and I wonder about the appropriateness of that, regardless of the honor associated with the cause.

The Blues

Hi, Susan: The so-called Blue Line flag is not an appropriate use or modification of Old Glory (and BTW: no modification is appropriate). Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

USA flag

If the flag touches the ground what do you do with it

Grounded

Hi, Bob: Countless flags have touched the ground for one reason or another. Think of all the soldiers carrying flags in battle who had to hit the ground. As you realize, what you do is pick it up, brush it off, and carry on. It doesn’t have to be destroyed or some such. But thank you so much for caring so much to ask!

Painting the flag on objects

What are the rules/guidelines for painting a flag on objects? I’ve seen recently the likeness of the flag painted on a rifle and the gentleman was told the flag was supposed to be painted charging forward rather than the standard display direction.

The Art of the Flag

Hi, Ashley: Any flag painted on something becomes art, not a flag, and with art, anything goes and there are no rules. Thanks for asking!

Laws

I have a question. Is there any law enforced that one could get a fine for keeping an old tathered flag displayed outside everyday?

Tattered Law

Hi, Steven: Unfortunately, no. Thanks for asking!

Flying Flag with State Flag

Is it ok to fly state flag below the American flag? And is it ok for the state flag to be same dimensions as the American flag?

Short and Simple

Hi, Brandon: Yes and yes! Thanks for asking!

American Flag Care

My son chooses to put up and take down the American Flag at his middle school. Many days he does not have any help to take down in the afternoons so it is just him. There have been many times the flag has been left up all night when other commitments has called him away from school early. He is very respectful of the flags and has to struggle to take down and keep flags up from dropping. Please give detailed instructions on how to do this respectfully to aid my son or direct to a video. Thanks

Son of Uncle Sam

Hi, Tammye: First of all, huge thanks to you and your son for being so patriotic, and please be sure to tell him that our Old Farmer’s hat is off to him. It is young folks like him who keep America strong. Now, is he disrespectful if he leaves it up overnight because he has another commitment? No. We all do the best we can. If we have respect for Old Glory in our hearts, that’s what matters most. Instructions: The main thing is to try to not let it touch the ground. If the flag is up, lower it and unclip the bottom. Begin to gather it against the chest as it is lowered farther and the top is unclipped. Try to straighten out the bunched up flag against your chest as best you can; if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Take it inside to a relatively clean, flat surface such as a table, counter, or even bleachers. Lay the flag down and fold it into the proper triangle (look online for how to do this). Store the flag in a safe, protected place, like a shelf. To raise, carry the folded the flag outside and reverse the process. As long as your son is trying his best, that’s all that counts. By the way, does he happen to have a big “P” on his chest for being a superhero Patriot?!! Thanks again for asking.

Stars on the flag.

Hello, We have a very large flag at our church that we use as a back drop for many patriotic programs. We recently used it for an event with Oliver North and someone told us that the stars were facing the wrong way. They said that This flag was not to be flown. Our stars on the 25ft flag have the single point down. I cannot find anything that tells me if this is wrong or not. I’m very proud of our country and flag and need to know. Can you help. Thanks so much.

The Answer Is in the Stars

Hi, James: When a flag is displayed as a backdrop, the union (blue corner with the stars) should be in the upper left-hand corner, regardless of whether it is hung horizontally (the single points would face up) or vertically (the single points would face left). It is hard to imagine the single points facing down under either of these circumstances, unless your flag was mismanufactured or mismade in some way. We suspect that perhaps the latter might be the case, and that this is a well-meant, patriotic, homemade effort somehow gone awry, so a new flag would be needed. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

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