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.

When to Display the American Flag

  • 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

General Guidelines:

  • 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 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.

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 your flag yourself.

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

Reader Comments

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In lieu of half staff.

Our flag is displayed and illuminated on a pole, where we cannot take it down every day. Is there an alternate protocol to replace half staff? A military verteran told us there is another small flag that can be displayed lower on the flagpole that replaces the need to put the large flag at half staff. Has anyone heard of this?

In lieu of half staff.

Our flag is displayed and illuminated on a pole, where we cannot take it down every day. Is there an alternate protocol to replace half staff? A military verteran told us there is another small flag that can be displayed lower on the flagpole that replaces the need to put the large flag at half staff. Has anyone heard of this?

Parade

When marching in a parade (American legion) in a color guard with rifles with a total of 3 flags being no 1, American Legion, no 2 POW, no 3 American flag. My question what be correct position for the American flag, center in front of to the right? By the way this was a Flag Day parade.

Two flag poles at a residence.

I just got a new commercial 20' pole.
I also have a residential 16' pole.
I'm planning on displaying the USA Flag on the 20' pole. And to it's right on the 16' pole displaying other flags. Sports etc.
Is this proper?

Flag question

What is the ceremonial procedure for taking the flag down, folding, and how should it be stored when it is not flying?
Thank you

Proceed Below

Hi, ET: The lengthy answer(s) to this important question have been covered a number of times in the pages below… feel free to peruse, and thanks for asking!

Lowering, folding and storage of our Flag.

The Lowering of our Flag is addressed in the Almamac article. For more detailed information, step-by-step instruction with how to pictures for the procedures your interested in:
1- sparefoot.com addresses your interests;
2- usflag.org addresses the ceremonial aspect of Flag Folding as instructed by the US. AirForce Academy;
3- nps.org (National Parks Service) addresses Flag rolling for long time storage.

Church pendants

Is it true that the Church pendants can be placed above the America flag during mass services only

Church pendants.

See US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7.
Church pendants may be placed above the American flag by the Navy Chaplin for his service while at sea. The pendants must be removed and the America Flag restored to its proper position immediately following the service.

Separation of Church and Flag

Hi, Kenneth: Thanks to C.J. for this great answer, and thanks to you for asking!

flag costume

It is disrespectful to use flag as part of costume or wearable.
You dont want the flag to be your undies either.

Flag as apparel.

Being disrespectful to use our Flag as part of a costume or other such clothing is an individual opinion only. See "Flag Discoloration" reply just below. Although I do not agree with some uses and treatments of our Flag, I do have a Stars and Stripes short sleeved dress shirt that I starch and iron for wear only on the 4th of July.

Flag as apparel.

Additionally, the entire front of my Stars and Stripes dress shirt properly displays our Flag with blue field of Stars positioned on shoulder appearing on the high left corner when viewed as required.

Flag as apparel.

I need to clarify as my finger typed slower than my thoughts. I should have specified my shirt is an imprinted REPRODUCTION of a properly displayed flag, shirt was not made using an actual flag. To me, the use of an actual meant to be flown Flag for anything other than for what it is intended is to dishonor more than just our Flag itself. The Freedom of Speech entitles people to show their Patriotism be it on a coffee mug, purse or shirt, (Flag imprinted underpants is totally unacceptable and disrespectful). Patriotic items displaying our Flag should reflect good taste, respect and pride. Flags are painted on aircraft, imprinted on sports uniforms, engraved on trophies and so on to show country of origin. If wearing a reproduction of our Flag is wrong then, shouldn't the President and all his people remove their Flag lapel pins and tie tacks?

Worn Out

Hi, babanna: It is OK to use flag-patterned material in clothing, as long as it is not an actual flag or resembles an actual flag after the garment is made. Thanks for asking!

Flag Wreath

Hello. I have seen some lovely entry door wreaths made by using a simple grape vine wreath and then adorning them by carefully wrapping the American Flag around them (in a variety of ways). For visual examples head to Etsy website.

Is this in any way showing disrespect and/or bastardization of Old Glory?

Thanks for any info.!

Using an actual American flag as a decoration

Hi Deanna. I believe you should not use an actual American flag in the wreath. Why not find some other red, white and blue designed cloth instead?

God Bless America

It's a Wrap!

Hi, Deanna: Phil is correct—an actual Stars & Stripes flag should not be used for this. Thanks for asking!

Displayed next to other flags

Is the US flag supposed to be displayed next to the flag of a country, of which, the US doesn’t have a peace treaty?

Flying our Flag in other countries.

Regardless of the alliance status of a country, our flag could be flown in that country at the location where there is an American presence, such as POTUS. The same show of respect that we display when the leadership of any country comes here. Whether in a tent city or a structured facility located in any foreign country, regardless their alliance status, our military will display our flag in such manner as to show respect for our flag while abiding to the laws of that country in which we establish a presence. Where we so goes our Flag.

Country Wisdom

Good answer, C.J., thank you. And Patrick, thanks for asking!

flags of other (hostile) nations

was the display of flags in Singapore proper?

Display of flags in Singapore.

The answer is Yes. It was protocol.

Singaproper

Hi, Fawn: It depends on which display(s) you are talking about, but C.J. above (thanks!) is correct: Often strict rules are bent in order to come up with compromise protocols. There are more entries about this in the pages below. Thanks for asking!

Thin blue line flag?

Recently, a flag known as the thin blue line flag has become a popular symbol of support for cops. It is an American flag, colored black and white, with a blue line horizontally cutting across. Does the flag code say anything about discoloration of the flag for other symbols?

Flag discoloration.

I am the 2d of 3 generations of Proud To Serve career Army. My husband was in his 26th year is service at the time of his death as a result of the Gulf War. Both of my sons enlisted Army, one still serving with 21 years in. I feel strongly about the preservation of our Flag, what it represents and stands for which includes our rights under the Constitution. Unfortunately, those protected rights allow people the freedom to publicly spit on our Flag, cut it up and burn our Flag in protest. Our Flag is constantly altered such as being made into caps, capes, clothing; print is inserted on it's stripes. It is used in everything from various types of business and organizational advertising and protest to craft products to coffee mugs. People buy and make for themselves Flag things so to show their pride and patriotism. Manufactures are in it for the money. The argument could be made that the Thin Blue Line Flag is a just new type of flag or banner, a separate entity. Just as with music; change a few notes and words of a song to make it a different and basically new tune that you own. I do not agree with how our Flag was used as the template by which the Thin Blue Line Flag was produced, but that's all I can do. There is no law against the making and use of that flag and the Constitution protects it. Sad.

The Blues Over the Blues

Hi, Steven: From a technical standpoint, the Blue Line Flag is not proper. Thanks for asking!

Flag on house

I am flying two flags from the porch of my house. One is the American flag. No flag is supposed to fly to the right of the American flag. Is that the right when facing the house or when standing on the porch?

Flag on House

Yes, the American flag is always on its own right. Therefore it should be the leftmost flag, as seen from the street in front of the house.

Thanks, Elmer!

Hi, Eric: Elmer is correct: On the left as you face the house. Thanks for asking!

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