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

american flag

when a flag has been on the ground it is to be retired. The proper way is a burning ceremony. The boy scouts will do this.

TOUCHED GROUND

I must respectfully disagree with the reply by the Almanac staff.
IT TOUCHED THE GROUND!
Now it MUST be disposed of in a ceremonious fashion, or buried with reverence. It must not be displayed or "retired". It must be buried or destroyed. See Title IV United States Code.

Disrespecting the US Flag

Today I saw an advertisement for the sale of cutting boards that are made to look like our US flag. I stated that I could never cut any food on a board with that resemblance. I felt it was disrespectful. I think I read somewhere at sometime that no one should make copies of our flag that could be used for reasons other than our flag was originally intended. What do you think??

A Cutting Question

Hi, Dana: Technically, this is flag art and protected under Freedom of Speech—but we would never use it. What do we think? A: That this is a bad idea, and that’s putting it mildly. Thanks for asking!

Multiple US Flags

I have a regular US Flag and supporting the fire and law enforcement with a red and blue band. Can I fly the regular American flag and the special flag on the same post?

Flagged Idea

Hi, Lorne: Yes, with Old Glory on top of course, but be advised that U.S. flags with different-color stripes on them to honor/support first responders or others are not considered proper. Thanks for asking!

wearing of the flag

is it okay to wear clothing that is a facsimile of the American flag?

Just the Facs

Hi, John: No! Thanks for asking!

Flag

Should the American flag be flown if it is worn,faded or damaged in any way?

Faded (Old) Glory

Hi, Michael: No! Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Size of Flags being flown.

What are the rules for flying the U.S. Flag along side other flag poles displaying State, County, POW, Etc., when it comes to size of each flag. If the U.S. Flag being flown is 4x6 must the other flags be 4x6 or smaller. (Each flag is on it's own individual flag pole.)

Flags

When other flags are flown on the same level as the American flag, they shall be to the Left of the American flag
and they shall be the same size as the U S flag or Smaller. NEVER EVER will any flag be larger.

Sizing Things Up

Hi, Patrick: Richard is correct in his answer above (thanks!), although we’re sure he meant to add “to the left as you’re facing them.” Thanks for asking!

Crochet flags

Hi I have a question. I see so many patterns for crocheted Afghans that are the image of the flag. I was raised that you don't use the image of the flag is any type of decoration. So this is not allowed correct?

Artful Answer

Hi, Laurel: It is wrong to use an actual flag as clothing or some sort of decoration, but otherwise, images of the flag are considered flag art, which is protected under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Flag storage

Is it ok to leave the flag clipped on the rope halyard and lower the flag down into a vessel or box?

Hooked

Hi, Kevin: Sure, assuming that you are then going to fold it properly. Thanks for asking!

Why???

I don’t understand why we have to burn it. Why can’t we just keep it?? Plz answer

A small flag on my bag

I found a small flag(20cm rod height. and 12cm x 5cm flag on it) lying in grass after 9-11 remembrance event in our university. I picked it up and kept it with me. My bag has two ring like slots vertically beside it. I put the flag there, and I feel proud and great carrying it around. s
But will that be a problem? I am an international student and dont wanna do anything that can cause problems. Very curious.

No Prob

Hi, Akshay: As long as your flag isn’t hitting the ground or getting soiled as you use your bag, this is fine. Thanks for asking and thanks for doing!

FOOTBALL GAMES

At football games some bands have a large flag that takes many people to carry. The flag is always carried flat, but not touching the ground. I thought that the flag always had to fly freely and not flat. Maybe I am misunderstanding being flat. Can you explain that to me please?
Thank you so very much.

Flatly Speaking

Hi, Chyrel: You are correct: Old Glory indeed should not be carried flat. But remember, it’s the thought that counts! Thanks for asking!

FLYING flags of other countries in the USA

Are there any laws regarding flying flags from other countries in the. USA?

Guidelines

Hi, Betty: Not really. The only guideline, not law, is that Old Glory, if present, should always be flown higher or to the right. Thanks for asking!

Flying the flag alongside other flags.

When flying the flag next to other countries' flags, I believe you mention that the other flags should be to the right of the US flag. Is that to the right of it, as you are standing in front of the set of flags? Or to the right of the flags' right?

Thank you.

FLAG STIPES

PEOPLE ARE REPLACEING A RED STRIPE WITH A BLUE STRIP HONOR POLICE OFFICERS Is that ALLOWED?

flag ettiquette

a flag pole in our neighborhood flys the puerto rican flag and under it, the ivory coast flag. Is that acceptable?

That is perfectly allowed as

That is perfectly allowed as long as the American Flag is displayed higher than the others.

Flag Free-for-All

Hi, Ben: Usually you would fly a national flag above a territorial flag, even if from another country (the U.S.), but doing what you describe is perfectly allowable under our Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

No, this is not allowed. That

No, this is not allowed. That would be defacing the American flag.

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