U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag Flowing
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.

American flag

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

Leave a Comment

Size of US flag alongside Canadian & Florida flags

We have 3 poles all same height in a triangular form. Should the US flag, on the left pole , be larger than the Canadian & Florida flags?

Triangular Logic

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dorothy: If these poles are in a triangle, with two in front and one in back, then Old Glory would be on the left front. If it is one in front and two in back when viewed from the primary angle, then Old Glory would be in the middle (front). If it is clear that Old Glory is in the primary position (as in case #2 just stated), then they can all be the same size. If there really is no primary position, then Old Glory would need to be larger, OR you could just fly the other two a few inches lower than Old Glory. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Gold cords associated with flag display

How are the gold cords to be attached and or displayed with our nation's flag. If the gold cords are used in a public display like in a school are they also used when a flag is used with a marching band in an honor guard marching unit. Are the gold cords needed?

Accordingly

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tim: Gold cords (with tassels) are an optional adornment for use under almost any circumstances. They are tied to the staff at the top, below the finial (ball, eagle, etc.) if there is one, usually by being inserted through themselves (fold in half, hold midsection loop behind staff, run the two trailing ends across the staff and through the loop). This “knot” needs to really be cinched in some way. Sometimes small pieces of string or heavy thread can be used to “bind” the gold cord’s fastening knot to itself so that it doesn’t slide apart. The cord also has to be secured in this position so that it does not slide down on top of the top of Old Glory. Any type of small fastener such as a tack, staple, or metal clip into the cord and staff can accomplish this. Thanks for asking!

Numerous flags display

Is it allowed to have many USA flags flown in a display or must only one flag be flown at any event?

The More, the Merrier

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joan: It is perfectly OK to have more than one. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Painted Images

Should an image of the United States Flag be painted on the ground, such as a parking lot?

A Lot to Consider

The Editors's picture

Hi, Wendell: This is OK, as it is considered “flag art.” Thanks for asking!

If a 4” corner of the flag has been torn/disintegrated

If a 4” corner of the flag has been torn: disintegrated in the wind, should the flag be retired, or can it be repaired by shortening the overall length if the flag?

Answered at Length

The Editors's picture

Hi, Helen: The ratio of the length (“fly”) to the width (“hoist”) of Old Glory should be 1.9:1. If for some reason your flag was manufactured too long and cutting off 4 inches results in the proper ratio, then you are all set. If otherwise, then your flag needs to be retired. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

etiquette

Thank you. I loved this article. My dad was buried at a National Cemetery and the flag was not crisp and aligned after folding. The military personnel followed the etiquette to unfurl, display and refold the flag before giving the flag and condolences to my mother. Respect.

Folding Respect

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joanne: Thank you, and we honor your dad’s service. Military honor guards are the cream of the crop. They have to not only act with precision but also think with precision, and the hours of training and practice that they put in at stations across the globe are one of the great underappreciated contributions that they make to our nation. BTW, they fold not just for crispness and order. Each fold has a specific meaning, so it is done slowly and precisely to allow the meaning to sink in. You can research this online. Thanks again!

how high does a flag have to be off the ground

I am going to add a second flag below the American Flag. It is smaller but want to make sure I am honoring both flags. The pole is roughly ten feet. What is the distance from the ground that the second flag has to be? from ground to the flag draping?

Second Place

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michael: The only consideration here is that the lower flag not touch the ground when it hangs down. That being said, it is customary for the bottom of the lower flag to be at least as high off the ground as its own length (what is known as its “fly”). Thanks for asking and good luck!

Colors of U.S. FLAG

I have a neighbor that is display a flag on the front of his house that has "ORANGE & BLACK"
stripes & a GREEN background where the Stars are. Is this a recognized US flag or one that should NOT be displayed?

Orange You Glad You Asked?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: This is not considered Old Glory herself but instead “flag art,” which is protected by Freedom of Speech. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

flag at half mast

Since the nations flags are being flown at half mast for all the lives lost to covi19 ,is it proper to display a person home flag at full mast since they are not suited to be half mast ? thanks

Un-half-mastable

The Editors's picture

Hi, Catherine: The national period of half-staff for COVID victims is over, but this does not mean that there may not be one or more such periods declared by states or even the federal government going forward. U.S. flags have been at half-staff to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example. Be that as it may, if you cannot lower your flag, it is perfectly acceptable to attach a black or dark purple ribbon or streamer to the end of the staff in a similar gesture. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag printed on any article of clothing

Is it appropriate to print or sew the image of the US flag on any article of clothing or accessories?
Example; cap mask or bandanna

Sew Be It

The Editors's picture

Hi, Diosdada: Unless this is an actual flag that would be flown, this is appropriate because it is then considered “flag art.” Whether doing so is in good taste may be another mattter. Thanks for asking!

other election related flags

Is it appropriate to fly election related flags on the same pole, under the American flag?

Appropriately Appropriate

The Editors's picture

Hi, Susan: Yes, it is, and thanks for asking!

Hand Salute

Is it proper to hold the American flag with the left hand and to render a normal hand salute with the right? I thought when holding the American flag, a hand salute was improper. What is the correct protocol for holding the American flag and action when a command to "present arms" is given?

Two Hands

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: It is not proper to hold with the left and salute with the right. The problem here lies in the fact that Old Glory should be held with two hands, including at the command “Present arms!” Thanks for asking!

American flag and political candidate flag

I'm assuming a political candidate's flag should never be flown with an American flag under any circumstances since it is a form of advertising. True, right?

Political

The Editors's picture

Hi, Stephen: It’s OK to fly other flags below Old Glory. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Battle flags

If a soldier is wounded badly in battle, can one of his fellow soldiers use the flag to bandage the wound?

My sister is taking an American Government class and wanted to know. She thinks he could, I think he couldn't.

Wounded

The Editors's picture

Hi, Abigail: Definitely yes, and no doubt it has been done countless times. In general terms, it is a soldier’s duty to protect Old Glory, in any condition, at all costs. If all soldiers expire, there is no one left on Earth to guard her, so every possible measure must be taken to retain protection, including soiling or damaging Old Glory herself. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask, and good luck to your sister!

Displaying flag

If I have a motivational program,can I fly or display as many American flags as I want or should I only display a single flag on the speaker's right?

And/Or

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rooster: Either way is fine. Thanks for asking!

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