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!

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Reader Comments

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Can the flag be painted on as

Can the flag be painted on as part of an art project?

Flag Overprints

I recently purchased a flag which has overprints. The American Flag is displayed horizontally,in the upper left, with the field of stars to the left, The field of stars is overprinted with the insignia of the U.S. Army. Diagonally, in the lower right, is a green field, overprinted with sergeant stripes and the word Veteran. Our HOA told me I could not fly this flag, stating it was an inappropriate display of the American Flag. It was not my intention to use this to display the American Flag. My intention was to display my service and patriotism. Is this an inappropriate display of the flag?

Funeral Protocol

We went to a funeral of a veteran of Vietnam era with body was cremated. Beautiful ceremony at Fort Ripley in Minnesota. Before the flag was given to the deceased son, 2 soldiers completely unfolded the flag then folded it again before presemtation. What is the significance of that? I have never seen this before. Thank you

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What would be considered defacing the American flag,

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Thoughts?

US FLAG VARIANT

I would suggest talking to the homeowner and seeing if they understand the proper respect for our nation's flag. If they do not have a proper attitude, I would ask them why they would want to fly the flag improperly. If that doesn't work, you may have to just put up with it, but depending on the situation, you might want to enlist the help of as many other homeowners in your HOA as possible.

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Thanks

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When pledging both flags do you keep your hand over your heart for both, or do you salute each one separately?

Lone Star Question

Hi, Anita: It would be most proper to have it be two separate actions, but whatever you feel most comfortable with would be fine. Thanks for asking!

Flag etiquette

Is it ever appropriate to print someone's face and slogan on an American flag, likeness or otherwise?

Let's (Not) Face It

Hi, Jessica: Never. Thanks for asking!

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When a flag is flown from a flagpole is there any specific rules about how tight the rope should be when the flag is stationary?

A Big Flap

Hi, Cathy: Nothing specific, but it should not flap against the pole if possible. At the same time, there needs to be some slack so that the rope can absorb some of the shock of the buffeting wind. Thanks for asking!

U.S Flag

Am I able to place the U.S flag in my house?

Simple!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Isaac: You bet! Thanks for asking!

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I had the American flag and Michigan flag 5x7's flown over our capital in honor of our son's basic training graduation. I purchased a larger triangle display case and folded both and put them in it together. The American flag is on the left showing all stars. This was the only way to fit them so I could get some of the Michigan picture to display. Is this respectfully okay to do?

Case in Point

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mary: It was a great idea to get these flags to honor your son, but perhaps not so great to put them in the same case, as Old Glory does not usually take roommates. That being said, the design of Old Glory itself was born from creative thinking just like yours, so we’ll never tell if you won’t. Thanks for asking!

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I have a 4x6 American flag on my motorcycle with two other flags. The other flags are larger than the American flag. They are displayed lower and to wither side of the American flag. Is this acceptable?

Low Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bruce: As long as they are lower, that is fine. Thanks for asking!

Leaving a large number of 8x4 flags on beach.

A large number of 8x4 flags on little pole are being left on the beach to give a border for property.The flags have been left out since July 4th and are never brought in or picked up when fallen, allow to get them wet.
Is this desecrating the flag ?

Beached

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gailann: This may not be desecrating Old Glory, but it sure would seem to be treating her with less than full respect. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag heights

We have 3 pole at our college. The center is the tallest. We have the US flag at center being the tallest. Then we have a pole on either side with a state flag and a our school college flag . Can the state flag and school college flag be flown at the same height as long as they are lower then the US flag?

The Height of Concern

Hi, Dan: Yes, they can be the same height, and the state flag would be on the left as you face them. Thanks for asking!

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How long can the flag be displayed when it has a tear or rip in it?

Ripped = Off

Hi, Cheryl: When Old Glory becomes ripped, worn, or torn, she really should be replaced immediately. Thanks for asking!

Displaying the Flag

Is it proper or improper to display the American flag on a pole in the back yard of a residential home?

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