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!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Image on the flag

I just saw an American flag flying on a flag pole in my small town in Texas that had a picture of Donald Trump on it! Is that legal? His full face picture was superimposed on the flag! You can see the stripes behind his imagine

A Matter of Taste(less)

Hi, Ann: Nothing should ever be superimposed on Old Glory. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag on bagpipes?

Is it ok to attach the flag to the longest drone of the highland bagpipes?

Bagpipe Flag

Hi, Tom: This is really not in keeping with the recommended way to display Old Glory, which is “flying free.” Thanks for asking!

Flag Pole Issues

We have a neighbor that displays the American Flag, on an inground pole that is leaning. What, if any, is the regulation that he is violating?

Thank you! God Bless America!

Leaning Problem

Hi, Paula: There is no guidance regarding leaning flagpoles, as long as Old Glory is not touching the ground. Thanks for asking, and Amen!

American flag display

Is there a correct way to show a picture of the American flag as on a grave headstone. Shown flying from a pole should the stars be left or right or does it matter?

Headstone Question

Hi, Wanda: In a case like this, the union (stars) would be to the left, with Old Glory flowing out to the right. Thanks for asking!

American Flag

Good day, I am a Vietnam veteran having enlisted in the Army after high School at the age of seventeen. Along with my entire Aviation company, we were deployed and arrived in Vietnam January 31st 1968, the first day of the Tet offensive.
I spent a 13 month tour of duty in the Mekong Delta with my company before I was an E.T.A. back to the U.S. I both love and respect our flag as many others do as well, my Dad fought in North Africa during WW2 for over three years as well.
I now belong to a V.V.A. Chapter for the past 18 years where we perform an assortment of tasks for veterans as well as our community. At fund raising events we have developed an idea to say "Thank You for your support" whether any donates or not to our particular event.
A flag that is "OLD, TATTERED, or WORN" and is destined to be both properly and respectfully burned by our chapter at our annual WATCH FIRES is this subject matter.
As stated above, that type of flag has the stars removed from it and added to the name of a fallen veteran in Vietnam that states in full, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT,"NAME OF SOLDIER" K.I.A. VIETNAM. The other remnants of the flag will be respectfully added to the rest to be properly burned.The star along with the memo is inserted into a small glassine envelope, handed to an individual with the statement, PLEASE KEEP THIS IN YOUR WALLET OR PURSE, EACH TIME YOU HAPPEN TO GAZE UPON THE NAME AND THE STAR IT IS A WAY OF KEEPING BOTH HIS MEMORY ALIVE ALONG WITH THE RESPECT OF OUR FLAG. That person is also directed to Google "THE WALL OF FACES" where they may leave a REMEMBRANCE to the fallen soldier.
Over the years, I dare say hundreds and hundreds of folks have expressed tears of appreciation and or exchanged supportive thoughts on this endeavor as they have never seen anything like this before.
There is one among us and only one, who believes this is a DESECRATION of our flag. I have explained that I do not take a star from any flag other than those who are about to be properly destroyed so in order to keep the flag alive along with the memory of the fallen soldier.
Over the years, the expression of support on this idea has been 99% in favor of this, the ONLY ONE who is believing otherwise is the individual mentioned. I along with my other Nam veteran Chapter members will continue to do so believing we are correct to honor both the fallen and our flag together. Respectfully submitted.

The 1%

Hi, Roy: Thank you for taking the time to explain this situation to us. There are two real heroes here. One is the 99% of you who perpetuate this beautiful practice. In looking at things like this, it’s important not only to remember that it is often the thought that counts, but also to think about what may be other parallel cases. An Old Glory that has lived her life and can then be repurposed for one last patriotic good is to be much revered. Imagine a bedraggled Old Glory that has been shredded off the staff by shellfire and is then used for a bandage. Would there be something wrong with this? Is there something wrong or disrespectful about repurposing the stars from a doomed flag for an honorable purpose? Just as the world is not perfect, neither is our technical treatment of our flag. But we do what we can do to honor and cherish what she stands for, and that is exactly what your ceremony does. The other hero is the 1%er, the one person who in the name of patriotism is not afraid to call this popular practice into question. Throughout our history, it has sometimes been one questioner standing alone who has made all the difference. So, you all are heroes in our book. Thank you so much to all of you for your service in the past, present, and future!

Other Flag Rules

Is an American allowed to hold the flag (while it is on a pedestal), hug the flag while kissing it and saying 'I love you?"

Cutting the American flag

I have seen where people have cut the American flag diagonally and attached a Canadian flag that was also cut diagonally and they call it a friendship flag. I feel this is very wrong. What is proper?

American flag in a German household (in Germany)

I love America and although I was born and raised in Germany, a part of my soul yearns to live a life in the USA. This may never happen but I do feel a special connection to the country of freedom. Would Americans consider it disrespectful of me as a German to display it on my balcony here in Germany? I know the Flag Etiquette and I would make sure to display it in the most respectful manner. I could ask my friends in the states what they think of it, but I'm afraid they wouldn't answer this as truthfully because they do not wish to hurt my feelings. Honest opinion appreciated. Many thanks in advance.

Foreign Respect

Hi, Christian: No, Americans would not consider it disrespectful for you to fly Old Glory as a sign of respect for the U.S. Quite the contrary! Thank you for thinking of us and for asking!

Amercan flag

Isn't it disrespectful for anyone, including Trump, to keep hugging the flag?

Huggables

Hi, Taffy: No, it’s fine to do this as long as it is done respectfully. Thanks for asking!

Flag under American flag

I am questioning flying a Trump 2020 flag on my flagpole. Is it acceptable to display this support flag under the American flag? Thank you.

A Twofer

Hi, Marilyn: Technically speaking, it is perfectly acceptable to do this. Thanks for asking!

Etiquette

What about hugging and kissing the United States flag?

Hugs and Kisses

Hi, Janet: This is fine: It’s Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Framing

Can a person frame an American flag layed out completely unfolded using thread to stitch it to display in their home?

Framed

Hi, Ali: If we understand you correctly, it is perfectly OK to do this. Thanks for asking!

Old Glory and POW flag flown all the time.

I am wondering who to contact at USPS, other than the current Post Master, to address flying the flag ALL the time. It is not properly illuminated at night! I think this is very disrespectful. My Dad was a US Air Force pilot--flying B-52's--who retired in 1967. I have a brother-in-law who was in Viet Nam in the early 70's, and a nephew who was in Afghanistan recently. So it is very important to me to see this American Flag and the POW flag flown correctly and respectfully.

Light Subject

Hi, Linda: First of all, many thanks to the members of your family for their service, and to you for your patriotism. We have found that the best way to deal with this often is to contact your congress(wo)man or U.S. senators. They will be happy to “light” a fire under someone. Good luck, and thanks again!

Lighting

Can I still display my flag if I do not have lighting outdoors to illuminate it? I would like to display it at all times.

Shedding Some Light on the Subject

The Editors's picture

Hi, Maddie: While we applaud you for having your heart in the right place, it really is not proper to fly an unlit Old Glory at night. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Can we display our flags

Can we display our flags along Hwy. any day of the week or just on Memorial Day an Veterns Day. I'm a Sons of The American Legion an I place 16 out those days but would like to fly from sunup till dusk if appropriate.Thank You

Old Glory Highway

The Editors's picture

Hi, Timothy: Old Glory can be flown any day of the week anywhere, as long as this is done respectfully and correctly, as you propose. Thanks for being in the Sons, and please give our salute to your post. And thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

American flag

I sometimes see “oversized” flags flying. I thought those flags were reserved for Holidays only. I see them on non-holidays

Oversized

The Editors's picture

Hi, Judy: There are no rules for “oversized” flags (as many car dealerships seem to know!). Thanks for caring so much to ask!

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