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!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Flag lapel pin

Am I correct, when displaying a flag lapel pin no other pin should be above the flag?

Retired Afghanistan Veteran,

Mike

small decorative flags

Along the roads I see rows of small flags, on sticks, stuck in the ground for decoration. They may be touching the ground, out in the rain and no light at night. Do these rules apply to all flags or just the large one on poles?

Desecration of the USA Flag Question

Was the removal of the USA flag to fly the Mexican flag in Aurora, CO considered desecration?
In my opinion it was but I want to have my facts correct.

Thank you for any information of this.

American Flag and Christian Flag on the same flagpole

I realize that my perception may be contrary to proper etiquette, but please follow my logic. At my house, here in Georgia, we fly the Christian Flag above the American Flag, because we are Christians first and then Americans. Our pledge even says "one nation under God.." . I am not an evangelical holy roller guy, I am a well educated (Bs Religion, M.Div, ThD in Patristics).Christian (United Methodist) individual who takes both God and country seriously. So please explain why America comes before God when it comes to Flag etiquette.

Hugging the flag

What about hugging the American flag?

Used as a cape

Is it acceptable for the flag to be worn as a cape or draped around a person s shoulders? Athletes do this all the time at the Olympics and other sporting events. I say no and it's disrespectful. What say you?

draping a flag

The web site Senate.gov advises this, among other practices: No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. The page is not specific re wearing it as a cape, literally.

Then there’s this:The Flag Code addresses the impropriety of using the flag as an article of personal adornment, a design on items of temporary use, and item of clothing. … While wearing the colors may be in poor taste and offensive to many, it is important to remember that the Flag Code is intended as a guide to be followed on a purely voluntary basis to insure proper respect for the flag.

You can research the question here, which is where we got the information above: https://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf

Flag as Clothing

NO. Even tho it is done at Olympica as a pride in country it is not proper.

Wooden Flag

If a flag is made of wood, do the same rules apply-lighting, weather?

american flag protocol

Is it respectful to drape the flag around your shoulders, or to hug the flag?

draping the flag

See July 9, 2019 above.

Hugging the U.S.Flag

Rule violation yes or no?

Etiquette for small apartment flags

I just purchased a flag for the first time. Are there special guidelines for small apartment flags? Do I have to bring it in every night? Ok to have it out in the rain? Ok to leave it out after dark?
Thank you so much for information.

guidelines for flag display

Actually, there are some standards—too many to mention here. See page there on this link: https://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf A lot of the info will not apply to you, but it is all clearly stated and easy to grasp.

Rainbow (gay pride) flag flown under the american flag a

I recently visited Niagara Falls state park in New York and saw a flagpole with the American Flag the POWMIA flag and the rainbow flag on. To me this was very inappropriate I just wondered what the rules were.

Flag touching the ground question

I know the flag should never touch the ground. What about when it is something that has Stars and Stripes on it, but isn’t a flag? For example, many golf courses have pin flags which have Stars and Stripes on them, but they are not the American flag. Can those be placed on the ground (because they are not a true American flag)? Or since they have properties of the American flag (they have Stars and Stripes somewhere on them) they should not touch the ground?

American flag scarf

On the Fourth of July I lasted my scarf that has the American flag printed on it on the ground for my infant to sit on and I was told by a individual that I was disrespecting America and everything the flag stands for Because my scarf acts as a replica of the us flag , my question is , is this true Was I wrong to do this with my scarf that looks like a flag?

scarf with flag imprint

The scarf is not a true flag, one created for display on a flag pole, so you were fine.

Flying a damaged flag

I have a flag that my Grandparents flew In 1961, It is Very sentimental to me. My Great-great grandfather fought in the civil war, My grandfather fought in the First World War, My father fought in the second world war, My uncles fought in Korea, and I served in 1968-69. I do respect our flag I would hate to destroy it. Am I wrong to Fly It?

Using the US Flags Colors for an Online Picture

Will you violate the U.S Flag code when you use not the U.S flag itself but ONLY use the U.S flags "red white and blue" colors for an online image design you're creating for the 4th of July?

You use the flag for advertising, etc.?

Good luck enforcing this one;

"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."

Revisions and flying etiquette

What is the etiquette in flying older versions of the flag?

Shoes

Would it have been considered afoul of flag etiquette to wear (a certain brand of) shoes with the flag embroidered on them?

is it disrespectful to wear the flag as clothing

I have seen the flag used as pants, shirts, swim suits, etc - I was taught the flag was to be properly displayed and never used for anything else -

Clothing

I think that's answered in the last rule on the page; "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"

Flag worn as clothing

Let me clarify this rule for you. An actual flag intended to be flown on a flagpole should not be worn as clothing, Depictions and images of the flag worn to show ones patriotism or respect for the flag is fine. e.g. a flag pin worn on ones lapel, a flag patch worn on ones uniform, a Betsy Ross flag worn on ones shoes.

Re - Flag Worn As Clothing

Thank you, Dan, for clarifying that for me. Someone I know had said shirts and shoes with depictions of the flag were disrespectful to the flag. I'm still not going to do it myself, but it's good to know. Thanks again for the clarification.

missFlag flying dated

President Clinton designated May 15 respect for law and fallen officers and Flag to be flown at half staff. Was there when he ordered it so check it out

Gay pride flag Facebook dilemma

Is it disrespectful to fly a gay pride flag under the American flag on the same pole?

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