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, members of the armed services and veterans are asked to stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered; civilians should place their right hand over their heart.

When to Display the American Flag

The flag is a symbol of respect, honor, and patriotism. It may be displayed on any day of the year according to the following guidelines:

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

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

  • 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.

How to Properly Display the American Flag

As a symbol of the country and its people, the flag should be treated with respect and be honored when on display. In order to treat the flag with the dignity it deserves, the following display guidelines are recommended.

General Guidelines for Displaying the Flag:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 the flag is used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder.

Hoisting and Lowering the Flag:

  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

  • 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.

Displaying the American Flag on a Vehicle:

  • 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.

Displaying the American Flag Alongside Other Flags:

  • In the United States, 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.

American Flags

How Not to Display the American Flag

The flag and its likeness should be treated with respect. Its image should not be cheapened or tarnished by improper use.

  • 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, unless 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.

How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag

  • 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. The American Legion holds an annual ceremony to retire old or worn flags; contact your local chapter if you are not able to dispose of the flag yourself.

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

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Flag on Possible logo

We want to create a logo with Stand for the Flag and Kneel to the Cross and sell them as magnets to make money for an organization. A friend of mine told me that no symbol is allowed to touch the flag. As I read these rules, it is my understanding that we cannot do this, is that correct? I have used all free images to avoid copyright issues. We can make the flag not touch the cross. We do not want to do anything wrong, but we need to know if this is allowed before we invest in something like this.

My City does not fly flag at city building. Even though there is

......even though there is a flag-pole! I’ve asked if the city receives $$ from the state and federal government...of course! Is this breaking the law?

American Flag

How many days before & after the designated days to fly the United States Flag, should you leave it up?

American flag

lately I have been seeing more and more people flying the flag on there cars and trucks . A lot of these flags are tattered and worn . They are also driving at high speeds not in a parade . This seem disrespectful to me to see our flag driving down the freeway at 60 plus miles per hour . Am I wrong about this ?

Lighting

I just moved into a new house and there is a flag pole in my front yard and I was wanting to hang Old Glory. I know that the flag must be raised and lowered every day and not left up in the dark, unless there is light on it. The flag pole is located under a street light, would this light be sufficient or should I get a solar light to shine on it during the night? Thanks!

Raising American and State Flags

What is appropriate protocol for raising flags on separate lanyard?
Does American flag get raised first and then state flag raised or is American flag attached then state flag attached with both being raised at the same time?

You should raise the flags at

You should raise the flags at the same time but put state lower. They get attached at the same time.

Displaying flag in very rural cemetery

Hi my son is working on an Eagle Scout project, part of it is restoring 3 civil war veterans badly damaged head stones , cemetery clean up , and building and installing a sign marking the cemetery. He wants to put a small flag pole on the sign. It is not posable to put the flag up and take it down every day. I have looked at solar light and they seem to be extremely unreliable. Is it ever ok to leave a flag in the dark?

A Little Ray of Sunshine

Hi, Jennifer: Great project! Congratulations to your son, and thanks! Unfortunately, it’s not OK to leave Old Glory unlit, but the good news is that there are many very reliable solar-powered lights on the market these days, so we wouldn’t give up on that angle! Thanks to you both!

Sa-LUTE!

Our thanks to USMC Craig for his many fine answers below!

Why??

Why do u have to burn your old flag?? Isn’t that against the law??? I will never burn my flag. If u are a true amaracian do not burn ur flag

Why?? Why do you have to burn your old flag?

Just because it is old is no reason to burn it. However, if it is permanently soiled, worn, thread-bear, torn, tattered, ripped, cut, or has touched the ground at any time, or has any flaw whatsoever, it must be burned ceremoniously or buried with reverence.

Disposing of an American flag

I was told that on approved way to dispose the American flag was to cut out the blur stared field then throwing the blue field away one week then the striped portion another week. I feel the original cutting is disrespectful. What say you. Thanks

Disposing of an American flag.

There are only 2 approved ways to dispose of the American flag.
1) It must be burned ceremoniously.
2) It must be buried with reverence.

It must NEVER be cut in any fashion for any reason!

Displaying the flag with other flags

On Mission Sunday, the church posted about 30 flags on the sanctuary floor. Three prior service people had a big discussion on how and where the American flag should be posted and placed. The church spit them up to 2 equal groups with American flag on the right of the congregation and it was the closest to the center of church. 2nd question, 2 flags, if the American flag is on the podium with the Christian flag should it be posted on the right of the minister. Thanks for your help. best t

Mission Accomplished

Hi, Terry: This is at least a little confusing to poor us, but we’ll give it a try. Regardless of whether you had one group of flags in a line or two equal groups in line with each other, Old Glory would be on the far, far left as viewed by the congregation (or, to the minister’s far right as he faced the congregation). Similarly, Old Glory would be to the left of the Christian flag when viewed by the congregation. Thanks for asking!

Other Flags with Old Glory

On this comment on Nov 7, 2018, about Old Glory, is this also true of the posting with the American Legion Flag, American Legion Auxillary Flag, Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc, etc. Thanks!

Flag Art?

I was wondering if it's wrong to make an american flag out of painted electrical pipe that I can display on a float in a veterans day parade. Is that considered disrespectful? Would it be misconstrued as inappropriate rather than pride?

Flag Art?

Although the real flag should be flown whenever possible, it should not be painted on items especially if those items are for commercial sale. However, if you are making a flag, from whatever material, it must be done in a way that evokes pride in all who see it. Title IV United States Code says that anything that is red, white, and blue may be viewed as the American flag, and must be treated as such. Good luck in your project...do a great job!

Flag Art?

Also, if it to be displayed on a float, you must display it from a staff.

Flag dispossal

A local town is taking worn flags that have flown over City Hall and cutting the stars off the flag to give to local citizens to carry with them to remind them that they are American, to remember all service members and as remembrance for all those killed fighting for its freedom.

I like the concept but may disagree with cutting up the flag.

Any thoughts?

FLAG DISPOSAL

NEVER CUT THE FLAG! NEVER! - NEVER! - NEVER!
The ONLY way to dispose of the flag is:
1) Burn it ceremoniously
2) Bury it with reverence
It is never to be cut up into pieces for keepsakes, souvenirs, nostalgia, etc.

Flags with gold fringe.

Is this strictly an indoor,ceremonial flag ?

FLAGS WITH GOLD FRINGE

No, it is NOT an indoor or ceremonial flag. The gold fringe was added to the flag to keep it from ripping at the edges in the wind aboard ship. As such, it indicates an Admiralty flag flown under Maritime Law which is the ruling body of law aboard ship. It is frequently, and improperly flown indoors because of ignorance, and because it looks decorative, or because it denotes a court with Admiralty jurisdiction. But, even most courts don't know this! For the most part, the fringed flag should ONLY be flown outdoors aboard ship.

salute our flag

I am a member of the American Legion. We have members of our Honor Guard who are not Veterans but Auxiliary members when at a funeral is it proper for them to do a military salute to our flag or hand over heart, I have been told either way is proper.

SALUTE OUR FLAG

Only active military or veterans may salute the flag, all other civilians must put hand over heart, (or simply stand at attention out of respect in those cases where their allegiance is to some other flag.) Note: Veterans may choose to salute or hand over heart.

We Salute Two

Hi, Tom: Craig above is correct… thanks to you both for participating!

Wearing hats during the National Anthem

Are women required to remove anything covering their head during the National Anthem?

Hats Off!

Hi, Francie: Yes, unless it is being worn for religious purposes or is otherwise difficult to remove and put back on. Thanks for asking!

Excluding Flags

Is it bad etiquette to display only a county or city flag without the American and/or State flag. This question was brought up for a funeral setting. Thanks in advance.

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