U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
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.

Honoring the Flag Code

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 (the flag’s own 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.

  • Most American Legion posts will conduct an annual ceremony, often on Flag Day (June 14) to retire old or worn flags; contact your local chapter if you are not able to dispose of the flag yourself. You could also ask your local Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts troops about retiring your flag.

Any Questions?

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

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Flag etiquette.

Should we paint the flag on a rifle? Or any other gun?

Presidential debates

I have noticed that the flag was not displayed at the GOP and the Democratic Presidential Debates. Why?

Presidential debates

I have noticed that the flag was not displayed at the GOP and the Democratic Presidential Debates. Why?

Presidential debates

I have noticed that the flag was not displayed at the GOP and the Democratic Presidential Debates. Why?

Presidential debates

I have noticed that the flag was not displayed at the GOP and the Democratic Presidential Debates. Why?

Height of flag pole

If we are flying a 58" US flag, is there a specific height that the pole should be? Or is it tall enough that the flag does not touch the ground?

Thank you.

Class Room Flag

If the American flag is on a post from the wall, can the flag be draped (wrapped) over the post two times?

Inclement Weather

It was raining out and an Army individual, dressed in civilian running attire, came to our porch and stuck their head in our open window and offered to take our US Flag down due to "inclement weather". I was a Naval Officer and I can't believe that we are to take down the US Flag when it rains. . I do understand during Hurricanes, Tornado's and High winds. What constitutes "inclement weather"? Regards, Ken

illuminated flag etiquette

I am illuminating my flag. Do I need to take the flag down in inclement weather?

Honor guard movements with the Flag

As part of the opening ceremony for a fraternal group I belong to, the Flag is presented by a 3-man group in the center of the room, Flag in the middle, for the Pledge of Allegiance. There are two flags involved, one permanently mounted in the front of the room on the dais, and the other in the west end of the room along with two banners of the organization. On most nights, after the Pledge, the honor guard wheels, and posts the second flag in the west. But at the last meeting, they did an about-face, and returned to the west to post the flag. I almost came unglued! When I discussed it with them after the meeting, I was told it was "OK" to do it that way. I was always taught that you never did an about-face with the flag, that the flag should always move forward. Am I wrong here? Many thanks.

Flags of nations

When displaying flags of other nations along side the American flag, from flag holders, on the front of a middle school, where and/or how should it be display properly with the upmost respect?

Hanging flag on wall inside house

If i want to hang a flag on an indoor wall must the flag also be illuminated at all times or does that only apply to outside?

Inside Story

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mike: Excellent question! From a technical standpoint, an indoor flag should also be lit, but it has long passed into common practice to forgo the overnight lighting when indoors. Thanks for asking!

U. S. Flag mural

Is it acceptable to paint a 6' x 10' mural of an American flag on the front of a building facing the street? It would not be a representation of a fabric flag blowing in the breeze, but rather a flat precise image. The plan calls for up lighting at all times, and a two foot overhang of the roof gable. The remainder of the wall around the mural would be blank. I have never seen this done anywhere else, and wondered if there is a reason?

Etiqette: Proper display of US Flag/ Keeping the Flag neat and c

Last three years I have been passing a neighbors house, three doors from mine. That family seems to be of Spanish/Mexican origin. What has bothered me has been their display of the US Flag next to their house door on the wall of their home. The Flag pole is mounted somewhat too high and the Flag flies up into the rain gutter most of the time on windy or breeze days. The Flag itself always looks dirty and dilapidated. The worst thing that always bothers me is during the Wintertime when the Flag is stuck in the gutter and frozen solid to it and stays there in that position all Winter till Spring time. How could I approach those citizens and explain my discomfort about this issue and also have them change their ways of handling our US Flag? Tnak you for reading my concern.

Double Duty

The Editors's picture

Hi, Walter and Marty: OK, first we’ll address Walter’s question immediately above and then we’ll answer Marty’s.

Walter, this is a common challenge that we come across, and we always try to emphasize first of all that it’s the thought that counts. That, and that it’s usually better fo have Old Glory being misflown than not flown at all. Think of all of the zillions of ways that it has been mistreated in battle, yet still its glory remains. You are so good and patriotic to seek a solution. One thing that we have long recommended with some success is to ask a local Legion, VFW, or other civic organization for help, and spin things in a very positive direction: “We see that you are being so patriotic to fly your flag, and we wondered if you would accept this new flag and even do us the honor of letting us put it up for you as thanks for your patriotism.” Regardless of national origin, if language might be a problem, ask around to see if native speakers might be available to help (for example, at the XXXXXXX-American Club). Most of all, keep thinking, keep trying, and keep being so patriotic!

Now to Marty: This is “flag art,” which is perfectly acceptable under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Rules for small flags

Hi, Do the rules apply for small flags as well? I’m referring to the 4” x 6” flags you see that are attached to plastic sticks? Specifically, I am wondering about display rules such as not being displayed at night if not illuminated and for destroying these flags. Do the same rules apply?

Roger That

The Editors's picture

Hi, 13B: Yes, the same rules apply. Thanks for asking!

flag as a shpoulder patch

When a flag is displayed on a uniform or jacket shoulder sleeve, shouldn't the union field (blue part) always be on the left upper side of the patch? So if its on the left shoulder the union is left upper and to the rear of the patch, and right shoulder, union is still left upper, but the front of the patch?

Charge!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Russ: No, it’s OK for flags on uniforms to be “backwards” on the right arm, representing how they would look if they were being carried into battle. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag securement

We are flying a US flag in an entry to our business. The flag is hung vertical from the grommets but we have a lot of wind gusts coming in a near by overhead door. We have used a single staple in each corner to secure the flag from being blown around and possibly torn. I have told that, that is not proper. The single staple is not in the stitching and secures better than a push pin. Please advise, Thanks.

Fixed Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, David: From a technical standpoint, it is not OK to puncture Old Glory with anything. From a practical standpoint, go for it. Sometimes creative solutions are needed in order to “fly” Old Glory, and at the end of the day, patriotism rules. Think of the literally countless ways in which Old Glory has been affixed to things in wartime. Such challenges can always be solved by asking the question, “Which would better honor Old Glory, to make this minor violation of the rules or not?” In general, it is better to fly than to not fly. It sounds like you have done the right thing. And thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag display

I was recently at my son intermediate school and noticed that the flags are not displayed. They are folded and placed on what used to be the chalk rail. I thought that the flag could not touch anything. These flags are not in display cases. This act did not sit well with me at all I wotlike to have all the facts before I can take my concerns to the school administrators.

Railing Against Impropriety

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joshua: If Old Glory can’t be flown or put into a case, she at least should be properly folded into a triangle and placed in some sort of heavy plastic protection, such as a freezer bag, if sitting on the chalk rail. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

US FLAG DISPLAY

I am having concerns with our Fire department when the attend major funerals for the lost of their own:
1. The Co-Cathedral is located in the middle of town and the street is a one way street going from East to West.
2. For Major events the FD sends two Latter Apparatus to display the Standard; always the Standard is displayed between the two Latter Apparatus with the Union facing the Cathedral on the left facing IN.
3. The FD Color Guard has the Standard (FACING IN/Looking NORTH) on the Right and the
State Flag on the Left. Then the Posting of the Colors at the foot of the alter is questioned.
In this case what if the Protocol for displaying the COLORS.

Ladder Day Saints

The Editors's picture

Hi, Andrew: To be honest with you, it will take a better reader than us to understand your situation without a diagram. That being said, let us assume that the cathedral is on the north side of your E-W one-way street (although compass directions never have any bearing on how Old Glory is displayed). The two ladder trucks in front of the cathedral would display Old Glory with its union on the south side of the street, or on the left as the column approaches it from the east. The color guard in the column would have Old Glory on the color guard’s right. As the guard wheeled to the right nto the cathedral and approached the altar, it would again wheel, this time to the left, to face the celebrants, which would place Old Glory on the left as the celebrants viewed it. Old Glory would them be posted to the left of the altar when viewed from the congregation, with any other flag(s) to the right of it as viewed by the congregation. Thanks for asking!

improper use of the US flag

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.

The above two lines say that the flag should never be used as any portion of a costume. Why is it then, that companies are allowed to make towel, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, etc. with the flag pattern. It is difficult enough in these days to teach appropriate behavior to this emblem, and when it can be used as clothing, it becomes nearly impossible. I would like to see this issue addressed by our law makers.

Artful Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lynn: Please see other responses about “flag art,” which is permissible under Freedom of Speech. And thanks for commenting!

Flag art

A restaurant had a denim tapestry on wall that was generally in shape of fall but with different colors and with the bars and stars manipulated. People were offended by this and said it was inappropriate display even though there was nothing offense in its representation. Is this ok?

Fallen Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Todd: Not sure we understand what the “shape of fall” is, but in any event this sounds like “flag art,” which is perfectly OK. Thanks for asking!

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