American Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

By The Old Farmer's Almanac
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

Paint the flag

Can the flag be painted on a display board that is divided in half?

US Flag display

Is it a violation of the flag code if the American flag is displayed from a flagpole affixed by only one point?

“Fallen officers” flag

I’ve seen the American flag with blue and white stars and stripes and now even black and white stars and stripes supposedly to show respect to fallen officers. Is this an affront to the flag.

displaying colors on a motorcycle

which side of the rear of a motorcycle should the American flag be posted when posted with club colors? I was under the impression that looking from the rear of the motorcycle the American flag should be on the left and club colors on the right. Your thoughts?

Presenting the Colors

I have often wondered about the protocol regarding presenting the colors in a meeting room where the American flag is posted behind and to the right of the Speaker.
I have observed another American flag presented whilst the American flag is already posted correctly behind the podium. I have further observed the fag bearer upon presenting the colors begin to lead the group in a pledge of allegiance. Is this acceptable protocol?

What can fly above Old Glory?

There is something (onboard ship) that can fly above Old Glory. Want to guess what that is?

Above Old Glory

Kris,

The only thing that can fly above the Ensign is the religious services pennant and only during the time of the religious service. Once services are over the pennant must come down.

Above Old Glory

Kris,

The only thing that can fly above the Ensign is the religious services pennant and only during the time of the religious service. Once services are over the pennant must come down.

Flag maintenance

I display my waterproof lighted flag 24/7. I keep it free of imcumburences but here's my?? How r u supposed to clean the flag? It would seem disrespectful to simply put it washing machine the same as clothing. Pls help? Would appreciate an email answer. Thanx mpr

Respect the flag

I don't care if a flag is waterproof. It is not suppose to be flown at night (the sun is not to go down on the flag) nor is it suppose to be flown in the rain. We are suppose to respect the flag not the material it's made from.

Respect the Flag

Sharon,

You are incorrect in both of your statements. The Ensign is flown in All weather (rain, sleet, hail, snow). The only way it will be brought down because of weather is when there is high winds, and whoever is responsible for making sure the Ensign is raised makes the high winds call to bring it down.
The Ensign is also flown on many occasions after sunset, some of those are: When raised before or during battle (on the battlefield), only comes down after battle is over or the enemy takes it down; it's always flown while a US vessel is underway, only comes down at sunset when the vessel is anchored or moored; When raised at an unmanned post, never lowered. These are just a few but there are more occasions where the Ensign is not lowered at sunset.

Mike

Mike,

You don't clean the Ensign. If you want a fresh looking one, you are supposed to replace it.

Flag etiquette

Often times we see flag is flown at half staff for situations not listed above. . The above listed situations are basically for certain Government officials. . It is appropriate to fly at half staff for all these other situations. . I was just curious. I grew up being taught to respect flag as my dad was an Iwo Jima Veteran and it seems I remember growing up there were very few occasions we put flag at half staff, and that I was told it was for only elite situations. . But now it seems it is flown at half staff so very often. I was wondering what the proper etiquette is. Thank you for your reply in advance.

Properly Improper

Hi, Julie: Thanks for this superb question! The short answer is that yes, the subjects and reasons for half-mast orders and resolutions have become much diluted over the past 50 years or so. You can look at this as a devaluation of the honor or as a remedy for situations that had not been anticipated when the Flag Code was first written. We would probably go with the latter, while at the same time saying again that you are right! Thanks again!

Colors

Is it ok to display a flat that's not red,white and blue for the benefit of a specific organization?

Off-Color Answer

Hi, Peter: No, this is not considered proper, although as “flag art” (which is what it becomes), it is protected under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Raising the flag

Do you raise the flag after a period of mourning at sunset or midnight?

Up at Night?

Hi, Robert: You would raise it at the first opportunity in the first day after the period of mourning. If Old Glory were properly lit, then at 12:01 a.m. (of course, if it is not properly lit, it should not have been flown at half-staff at night anyway); if not, then at sunrise. Thanks for asking!

Flag Night Storage

How do I store/keep/fold? my flag when I take it down and bring it inside every evening? Thanks in advance for your guidance. Kari

The Naked Truth

Hi, Kari: Search online for how to fold Old Glory into its proper triangle. Store it in a clean, safe, protected place, in a plastic bag if necessary. (It is OK for a “naked” flag to touch a clean shelf, BTW.) Thanks for asking!

Flying flags at half staff

Your almanac definition of half staff is confusing: "Half-staff is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff".
Where is the measurement point on the flag - top? midpoint? bottom?
I believe that a flag at half-staff is lowered only as much as the hoist (vertical width) of the flag, or no lower than the flag bottom at the mid-point of the staff.

Whole Answer

Hi, Karl: Thank you for this excellent question. Half-staff (or -mast on a ship) is generally taken to be a position about halfway up the staff. As you say, Old Glory needs to be lowered at least by its own width (“hoist”), but at the bottom end of the range, it is OK for the midpoint of the flag to be at the midpoint of the staff. Thanks again!

Previous Flags?

I'm part of a theater production that takes place in 1912. As most people know, there were not 50 states in 1912, and I was wondering, if we found an old flag, if it was appropriate to hang it or raise it on a pole during the production. Thanks!

Old Old Glory

Hi, Eleana: If you are talking about within the production, like onstage, then of course this would be OK. If you are talking about on a flagpole outside the building, for example, it would still be OK, but better if flown beneath or alongside the 50-star version. If you fly the old Old Glory by itself, it then becomes “flag art,” which still OK because it is protected by Freedom of Speech. All of which is to say, whatever it is you are talking about, go for it! And thanks for asking!

Flag Etiquette

If the American Flag is positioned on a one position pole, what is the proper flag position when the flag is to be flown at half staff? Fly it full staff or remove it?

Our Position Is ...

Hi, Robert: The ideal way is to fly a black ribbon or streamer attached at the topmost point of the flag. If this can’t be done, then it’s OK to leave it up. It’s the thought that counts, and we always say that any Old Glory treated respectfully is better than no Old Glory at all. Thanks for asking!

Flying the flag

I was recently shocked to see a large American flag flying on a pole at a residence just above an equally large flag that said "TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT 2020"

is this an appropriate flag to fly on a pole just below Old Glory?

Respectful Answer

Hi, David: It is OK to fly another flag below Old Glory, as long as it is not disrespectful. Thanks for asking!

Proper way to stand at attention at sporting events

I am a high school football official and and often on the filed during the playing of our National Anthem. Most people with hats remove them and cover their heart. I was told once to hold my hat in my left hand (behind my back) while covering my heart with my right. Is this ok or should I do as the majority?

Hats Off to You!

Hi, Darryl: Either way is acceptable. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

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