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 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 burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Flag burning and disrespect of our flag

I don't know why the Supreme Court would uphold the burning of an American flag as a form of freedom of speech. I consider that as disrespect and the person should be fined or jailed for such an act. I am proud of our flag and was taught that it is a very important part of being an American to honor such a flag. I don't agree with the changing of the colors for different organizations. Why can't the flag protocol be followed and the flag respected like it used to always be.

Is there a right time to fly the flag at night without being lit

Is there a right time to fly the flag at night without being lite

Flag Laying Flat

I often see the US Flag carried flat on football fields, etc. Most recently it was carried flat around the Indianapolis Speedway before the start of the Indy 500. Is this proper?

hugging the flag

There is a well distributed photograph of our president hugging the American flag as it is displayed indoors on a pole. This doesn't feel at all respectful to me. Is this addressed in any flag code? Your thoughts, please. Thanks.

hugging the flag

would like a reply to theodore Peterson's question about the president hugging the flag

Repairing my flag

My flag was the one flown by the VFW in 2014 in honor of my father, a WWII Navy Vet who had passed away. I've flown it proudly since they gave it to me in 2015, but it has a hole torn in one corner. Is it alright for me to sew it and continue to fly it? Thanks for posting this too! :0)

Thimbles Up to This

Hi, LoAnna: Thank you very much for this excellent question and for honoring your late father, as we are happy to join you in doing. It is perfectly OK to repair Old Glory and keep her flying, as long as the new work is secure and well done—of which we have no doubt! Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flags that have been signed by veterans.

My local VFW would like its members to have members print their names, branch and dates of service on a flag that will be framed and put on our wall.

Frame Up

Hi, Michael: Once a flag like this is altered and—most important—framed so that it is no longer flying freely as a flag, it becomes “flag art” (or, in fact, a flag artifact), which is totally allowed under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for caring so much to post!

Chaplains flag

It can be flown at the same level as the US Flag during services

Reverent Answer

Hi, Glen: Yes, the Chaplain’s Flag can be at the same level as Old Glory, as long as it is to your right as you face them both behind the chaplain. Thanks for asking!

Proper display of the flag

Thank you for having this. 40+ years in a military family and I wish I could distribute this article to everyone who does not know how the proper way to display the flag. 20 homes in my neighborhood, and the 5 that display it, display it improperly. Everything from dragging it on the ground, to not displaying it properly at night (in the dark, not illuminated) to leaving a tattered one on display. One person even works for my county and should know better. Their children who are not corrected grow up not knowing or caring about our symbol of freedom through the complacency of their parents.

Perspective

Hi, Cynthia: Thank you for being so patriotic to make this post, and happy Flag Day to you! Your points are well taken, but we always choose to look at it as five flags being flown incorrectly is better than no flags at all. Often it’s the thought that counts, and sometimes there are reasons that things occur that we just don’t know about or understand. We also try to remember that in almost all other countries, five flags on 20 homes being flown just on ordinary days would be unheard of. In fact, as a whole, we are a hugely patriotic nation, with no little thanks to folks like you!

flags on a stick

Are flags on a stick to post in your garden or along walk ways ( not touching the ground ) appropriate? If not, how do we respectfully dispose of it? Or if broken, how do we dispose of it?

Small Answer

Hi, Linda: These are OK as temporary decorations. When not in use, they can be rolled up and stored in a clean, dry, secure place. When worn, they should be respectively and safely burned. When a stick is broken, the first step would be so see if the flag can be removed for re-placement on a new stick. Thanks for asking!

There's an error in the holiday list provided

Washington's birthday is February 22nd, not the third Monday in February. The third Monday in February is President's Day.

Washington's Birthday

Washington’s Birthday is the official name of the holiday that most folks know as Presidents’ Day. Read more about it here!

Different color USA flag

Is it ok to change the colors of the flag to rainbow stripes or black stripes?

Simple Answer

Hi, Janine: No! And thanks for asking!

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