American Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

July 6, 2018
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

High Flyin' Answer?

Hi, Jerry: As long as the size of Old Glory is proportionate to the pole and it does not touch the ground, there is no minimum height. Thanks for asking!

Flag

A new Brazilian steakhouse just opened. It has one flag pole. On this flag pole is the flag of the United States. Below the flag is the flag of the country of Brazil... it appears to me that both flags are the same size.... is this the correct way?

An Order of Flags

The Editors's picture

Hi, David: This is fine. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

I found a flag what to I do with it

I was walking and found a small American flag on a stick that must have been stuck in the ground at some point (probably for Presidents’ Day) abandoned near the side of the road laying down on the ground. I picked it up because I thought it was disrespectful and now know it’s illegal to allow an American flag to touch the ground like that. I know it’s illegal to throw it away and the flag is still in pretty decent condition at least as far as I can tell. The thing is I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with it now. Am I allowed to hang it up or should I mount it somehow or should I turn it over to someone in some kind of authority position?

The Little Flag That Could

The Editors's picture

Hi, Chelsea: Thank you for being so patriotic to ask this great question! It would be perfectly OK for you to clean this flag up (even swish it in soapy water and rinse) and use it again, even in a flower box or planter, for a little mutual beauty enhancement. In fact, this Old Glory might be considered extra special because you rescued it from possible oblivion. Thanks for the great job and thanks for asking!

American flag

Is it proper to have an image of something such as an American Indian to be embroidered on the American flag?

Repeat After Us ...

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rick: No! And thanks for asking!

Cutting the stars off

I recently witnessed the American Legion giving the retired flags that have not had a ceremony to customers so that the stars can be cut off the flag and given to veterans with a little poem in them. Is this disrespectful to the flag.

A Veteran Response

The Editors's picture

Hi, Deborah: Retired flags should really be burned in a respectful ceremony, but if they are cut apart for the purpose of making a nice gesture toward veterans, we’ll never tell. Thanks for asking!

Proper respect for the American flag

I am wondering if it disrespectful to wear clothing or head scarfs with the image or images of the American flag? Not the wearing of an actual flag but cloth or other fabric printed to look like the flag.

American flag designed cloth, fabric blankets etc.

Is it permissible to display like images of the flag like blankets, jackets, scarves and window treatments?
I also see the Olympians drape the flag over their shoulders is this really permissible, the president cannot do this!

Making things out of a old flag

we have a customer that wants are old flags after they are worn and we usually take them and have destroyed properly but he wants to know if he can have them to cut out the stars and he makes a poem out of them.

An Artful Response

The Editors's picture

Hi, Carol, Karen, and Ivcta: As you gather, it is not OK to use an actual flag as a celebratory shawl or other clothing, but then again, we are not going to get in the way of an athlete’s joyful celebration, as long as it is tasteful. Flag images on clothing and so forth become “flag art,” which is protected under free speech, but at the same time needs to be done respectfully. Cutting apart a flag to use as art would be OK. It is what happens to a “whole” flag that is important, and you are correct in observing that worn flags should be respectfully disposed of by burning. Once the parts of a flag are disassembled, they are no longer a flag, even though they still have their Old Glory DNA. Thank you all for asking!

Can the flag be used to hold a baby?

Can the flag be used to swaddle a baby as a sign of protection and freedom?

No Babying

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cliff: Not really… but thanks for asking!

American Flag Etiquette

Is it okay to fly another flag below our American Flag on the same pole, example St Patricks Day, Happy Valentines Day, etc?

Poler Exploration

The Editors's picture

Hi, Randy: Absolutely! And thanks for asking!

Lighting

It’s my understanding that when flying a flag on a pole outside that it must have a light on it in the dark. When hanging a flag indoors must you also keep a light on it in darkness?

A Light in the Darkness?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dee: Wow! This is one of our best all-time questions, and the answer is … no. Thanks for asking!

The flag as clothing

Is the flag design on clothing, i.e. shirt, skirt, etc. proper or improper?

Flagged Clothes

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sam: It’s proper, because technically it’s “flag art” that is protected by free speech, but you can see that even artistic license might not be enough of a justification for putting Old Glory on the seat of somebody’s pants. Thanks for asking!

Flag repai

Can one flag be repaired by using fabric from another ?

The Fabric of Repair

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lin: Yes… thanks for asking!

Paint the flag

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

Divided We Paint

The Editors's picture

Hi, Chuck: This would be “flag art,” so anything goes. Thanks for asking!

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?

Violation?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: This would be a violation because it does not allow Old Glory to really fly freely in all of its old glory. Thanks for asking!

“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.

"Fallen" Flag

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: Such flags, while made and used with good intent, are technically improper and not in good taste flagwise. Actually, when Old Glory is modified in such a way, it becomes “flag art” (aka free speech), so it is certainly permitted. But such flags should not be the object of The Pledge, for example. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Fallen Officers Flag

Jim, In my understanding of the flag and the flag code, this is in direct violation of the code and is not allowed at all. No matter the intention, I feel it is irresponsible for people who claim to uphold and defend the Constitution which is meant to include things such as the flag code, for them to be in direct violation of it. I understand the right to free speech so I will never deny anyones freedom to speak, however I feel it would show solid character for any law enforcement to actively display the authentic American Flag rather than one which is made to only represent a select group of people. The US Flag is designed to represent all people within and outside its borders who are citizens of this country. It was never ever designed to only represent a group of people within the citizens. This is divisive and counterproductive in my opinion. States have flags designed unique to their state. Law enforcement should do the same. Not using the American flag as a template but a new original design.

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