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

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US Flag etiquette

I see several people displaying political party flags with the American Flag. Most recently flags flying the words "BIDEN 2020" and "Trump 2020", below the American Flag. In many cases never coming down from their pole at the end of the day, with no working lights at night. The flying of a political Flag with the American flag bothers me and i need to know if it crosses a line or is acceptable in the eyes of the US Government or military. Please advise and provide any written historical, congressional, military or other documentation that might support the case either way.

Politically Speaking

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ross: It is OK to fly political flags below Old Glory. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to do research for good folks like you, so please search online for the “U.S. Flag Code,” where you can find the answers in general terms. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

illuminated flag and rain

I fly a flag with a light upon it so I can fly it all the time. Do I need to take it down on days when there is inclement weather?

Weathering the Storm

The Editors's picture

Hi, Linda: Good for you! You need to take it down only if it is not an all-weather flag. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

American flag

Is it ok to have the Blue line flag and others with colored lines through them? They are not red white and blue. They are different colors. How about on clothing, not full flag, just a glimpse or a small art form?

True Colors

The Editors's picture

Hi, Janet: It is really not OK to put blue or other colored lines on Old Glory herself, which takes away her representation of our country. However, once you do this, you change her into “flag art,” which, along with images on clothing, etc., is OK under our Freedom of Speech. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Night

Should the flag fly at night?

Lit As Usual

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kim: Only if lit. Thanks for asking!

Flying the Flag at half-staff

Who has the authority to order the flag to be flown at half-staff?

Authorized Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Donald: The president, governors, sometimes Congress, and sometimes others just by custom. Thanks for asking!

Half mass

Is there a place to go daily on the internet to find out if we need to fly the flag at half mass? I can never find out why the flag is flown at half mass.

On Notice

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jamie: Thanks for this excellent question! Yes, if you do an online search for [half-staff notifications], you should be able to find one easily. Thanks again!

adding things onto the flag

is it o/k to change the flag for your own purpose , like adding a blue strip for the police ?

Flag of Another Stripe

The Editors's picture

Hi, Robert: No, it is not. Thanks for asking!

Flags on 1 pole

Good evening! I have 3 flags but 1 pole I know the U.S. flag goes on top. I have a 50th commemoration flag for the Vietnam war and a U.S. Marine flag can you please help me with which order they should be displayed so they are properly displayed. This is for a residential flagpole. Thank you!

Oorah!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: Technically, it can be either one, but usually you would put the USMC above because it is a military branch, not an event (war). Thanks for asking!

Raising the American Flag

Is there any rule about a female raising the American Flag

Raising, a Female Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Barbara: Not at all. Anyone may do it. Thanks for asking!

Flag as a blanket

Have seen many crocheted flags given to vets. Is this even proper?

Crotchety Reply

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brenda: Yes, this is OK because they are considered “flag art,” not actual flags. Thanks for asking!

Washing of the Flag

We have a flag hanging in our service garage. It has become dusty, but still in great condition. Is it appropriate to wash it by hand and rehang? Thank you.

Clean Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Susan: It most certainly is, and thank you for being so considerate to Old Glory!

Embracing the flag while it’s hanging on a pole.

What are the current rules of Flag Etiquette where touching the flag is concerned? I was and remain annoyed by President Trump grabbing the flag, allowing the pic to be a pin etc. and recently seeing his face on m ok ok flags. None of this would have been acceptable as I have been taught. What’s acceptable has apparently changed dramatically.???

Embraceable You

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brenda: It’s perfectly OK to show affection for Old Glory, which should of course be done in a respectful way. Thanks for asking!

Wearing and decor

So there are lots of prints of flags, and they can be used as decor such as pillows and clothes. Is that against etiquette or does it have to be an actual flag?

The Real Deal

The Editors's picture

Hi, Natalia: It is the actual flag that should not be used in such ways. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Fashion as a flash

When is it a violation to to wear fashion (t-shirts, swimwear, athletic gear, head gear,...) that is made in the style of the American flag?

Flagged Content

The Editors's picture

Hi, Matthew: Such use is OK because it is considered “flag art”—which protected by Freedom of Speech—as long as the item is not an actual flag itself that you could fly (and even then, the U.S. Flag Code is only advisory, not punitive). Thanks for asking!

Football game holding the flag flat across the field.

Why are people allowed to carry the flag flat across the football field? the flag code says that the American flag is never to be displayed or carried horizontally.

Impropah

The Editors's picture

Hi, Steve: You’re right: It’s not proper to do this—but it seems as though this horse left the barn a long time ago. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

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