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

They can't evict you for "no reason"

You and "Tim" are BOTH wrong. Landlords do NOT have the legal right to evict you for just because they want to. For example, you CANNOT be evicted because of your race, disability, or ethnicity. It's all in the Federal Housing regulations.

Cemetery Flags for Veterans

What is the etiquette for Veterans flags at cemeteries? When should they go up and when should them come down? Our American Legion puts them up just before Memorial Day, but insists it is flag etiquette to remove all of them a few days after.

Up With Old Glory

Hi, Marty: Your Legion (and thanks to them!!!) certainly has a well-thought-out procedure for honoring veterans in the cemeteries, but from a technical standpoint there is no reason to ever take them down. Thanks for asking!

Cotton Flag/ 5X3'

I was given this Flag by a Navy Commander, been flying it now for about a year, had some weather stains so I took it to a Dry Cleaners and had it cleaned. Now it looks fine but my neighbor's said that its faded, its not torn or worn so what is the law?

Faded Glory

Hi, Harold: This is really a judgment call by you. If the flag now really looks tired and decrepit and weak, then it should be replaced. If, although (somewhat) faded, it still appears to be sound of mind and body, then up it stays until down it comes. Thanks for asking!

PROPER Hanging flag on porch

My late husband was a Navy (30 years), he was very respectful of our flag....it bothered him greatly, when ppl hang the flag in the wrong place of a home’s porch. Please confirm (or deny) such placing.
He said, to your left, as you approach the front door!
I’m a rule-keeper (not a rule-breaker), and I see flags hung so disrespectfuly ...I’d like to leave them a “card” w/the proper way to hang OUR USA flag.....left or right of the door?

I was an Infantryman for the

I was an Infantryman for the US ARMY, if I cought someone on my property telling me what to do I would beat them senseless. DON'T DO IT!

Left, Right, Left Alone

Hi, Debbie: Thanks for this question and thanks to your late husband for serving! Perhaps not surprisingly, he was correct: on the left, as you face the door. As for leaving a card for people, that might be “a flag too far”—we always try to remember and emphasize that it’s the thought that counts. Thanks again!

American Flag etiquette

Is it proper that the POTUS wants to paint the new Air Force One with stars on the nose and strips on other parts of the plane?

Pointed Answer

Hi, Rose Ann: This would be OK, as it is not a flag but flag art, which is covered under freedom of speech. Thanks for asking!

American flag hanging

Does the customary illumination of the American flag after sunset only pertain to a certain size of flag? I have a small 11x18 in garden flag on a 2ft tall post in my yard w my landscaping. Do I need to have that illuminated or brought in every night as a larger flag would be?

There's No Such Thing as a "Little" Flag

Hi, Amy: Thanks for asking this patriotic question. To beholders of Old Glory, all flags of all sizes are equally big and equally represent the sacrifices and freedoms behind them, so, yes, your small-size flag would still need to be either lit or brought in. There are no size distinctions. Thanks again for caring so much!

Respect for the American flag

Is it disrespectful to nail an American flag to a wall with a nail going through the flag?

Nailed It

Hi, Brady: Yes! Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Empty flagpole or worn flag on business property

I was always taught if you see a empty flagpole it means it needs a flag I was also taught if I seen a worn flag flying that I was to present a new flag to the company is this true? And how do you present a flag to them with respect?

Empty Answer

Hi, Julie: Thanks for this great question. These are noble goals of yours, but as you recognize, they would need to be achieved carefully. Sometimes there are other reasons for an empty flagpole (such as the flag raiser got lazy), so you have to be cautious about how to frame this, so as to not (in this case) get anybody into trouble. If you are generous enough to provide a new flag, there’s nothing wrong with making an inquiry at the front desk, or even through an employee. Often the local American Legion or VFW is happy to provide a flag and/or help with approaching people or companies about accepting a new flag. Thanks again!

Cleaning the Flag

My dads casket was draped with the Flag, and over the years the family never took care of it. I now have it and would like to have it cleaned, it's in bad shape, but I want to try. Please let me know the proper way of doing so.

Presenting a flag

I would fold the flag in a military fold and hold one hand on top and one on the bottom. Then just tell the person I present you with this new flag.

A Delicate Matter

Hi, Wilma: Belated thanks to your dad for his service. It is OK to wash and dry this flag, but it sounds as though you should do it gently by hand, perhaps starting with a tiny bit of soap for delicate fabrics. You may need to do this several times; don’t try to do everything at once. And in this case it would be OK to lay it down flat on a protected surface to dry. Thanks for asking and caring so much!

Flag on the property line

My neighbor has put a flag on a 5 feet tall metal pole to mark the property line (corner) Is that legal? It is very unsightly and he did that to annoy me. Can I remove it ? Thank you, Joanna

Toeing the Line

Hi, Joanna: It is OK although not very cool to use a flag in this way. Unless we had some solid legal ground, not to mention some uniformed backup, we wouldn’t go a-messin’ with this flag, as long as it is on his property. Thanks for asking and good luck!

Touching the flag.

Is it correct for a politician to embrace the American Flag at a rally?

Embraceable You

Hi, Anne: Yes. Thanks for asking!

Flying the flag on my truck

Recently I have been flying the American flag, and the Gadsden flag on my truck. The mounts are on the back of the tool box of my truck, I mounted them there mainly for ease of access in case of inclement weather arises. I have the American flag mounted on the farthest right of the tool box (directly behind the passenger front seat)eand all it comes in contact with is the fender if it is not moving in the wind on its 5 foot flag pole. The Gadsden flag is mounted in the center of the toolbox and attached lower on the tool box. However I was told today it was not positioned right. What should I change?

Where to fly the Flag on a truck

The Flag should be on the left side of the truck behind the driver

Right You Are

Hi, J.T.: It sounds to us like you are doing everything correctly. Sometimes it helps to just imagine the vehicle as ranks of marching soldiers, in which case the soldier on the far right would be carrying Old Glory. Thanks for asking!

Flag Placement

Actually the flag should always be on the right front fender, this way the flag is to the left of those viewing it as the vehicle approaches them. Same as the Presidents Limo, flag on right side and POTUS flag on the left.

Display of flag on flagpole with family weather vane

There is a flagpole with a weather vane at the peak, which include the name of a local family (Coggins). Is it proper to fly the American flag from this flagpole, because the family name (Coggins) would be ABOVE the flag?

Taking a Name in Vane

Hi, John: It is really not proper to fly a wind vane above Old Glory, regardless of whether it has a name on it. Thanks for asking!

Flag decorations on food

Is it ok to decorate food (like donates or cake) with flag graphics handmade from frosting? I'm guessing not ok, but had to ask (for a friend of course).

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