U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag Flowing
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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

Flat Out Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ken: No, there isn’t. Thanks for asking!

Honoring Veterans

Is it ok to cut the individual stars of a retired flag to make a thank you to visiting veterans at our school assemblies? I have seen them passed out with a poem included.

Starry-Eyed

The Editors's picture

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

Does the same etiquette apply to the U.S. Civil Flag

And specifically having a U.S. Flag sticker/ decal, ... is that against etiquette? As long as the union is up?

Civil Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Charles: Thank you for bringing this up. For those who don’t know, a “civil flag” is usually a historical version, that is, one that is no longer in effect. Charles, we’re not too sure about what your question is exactly, but flag stickers and decals of civil flags, as well as stickers and decals placed (in any orientation) on a civil flag, are OK, as they are considered flag art and a civil flag is not the same as the reigning Old Glory. Putting stickers on her is not OK. Thanks again!

American flag and Oklahoma Cherokee flag

Can I fly the American Flag above and on the same pole as the the Oklahoma Cherokee flag?

On Top of Things

The Editors's picture

Hi, Melissa: Yes, as long as Old Glory is on top. Thanks for asking!

US flag with pride and black lives matter flags

First of all, THANK YOU for answering this. I want to make sure I am not disrespecting our flag.

I would like to display the flag along with the pride and a BLM flag this year on July 4. I have a flag mount above our garage that I normally hang my flag from. I was thinking to install similar mounts on either side of the current one; I can mount the new holders lower than the current holder.

I scanned through a number of posts and didn’t see a definitive answer; if I missed it, I apologize. I know it is a difficult time for our country and I don’t want to offend. Thanks for any help you can give.

Beside Themselves

The Editors's picture

Hi, Anne Marie: Thank you for being so patriotically careful and considerate to ask this question. What you describe is perfectly OK with the side mounts lower, and you can display the two lower flags on whichever sides you want. Thanks again!

Defacing the United States Flag

Why isn’t the maker and person carrying or placing of the US Flag criminally charged with desecration of the American flag when Donald Trump, current US President, has his picture superimposed on the American flag?

Freedom

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sandra: Our beloved Freedom of Speech protects almost all such actions, like them or not. Thanks for asking!

Flagpole question

On the same pole with the American flag on top can the presidential Reelect flag be right underneath it on the same pole? Thanks.

Beneath It

The Editors's picture

Hi, Martin: Yes, it can. Thanks for asking!

US flag

Can you clean (wash) an American Flag

All Comes Out in the Wash

The Editors's picture

Hi, Barbara: Most certainly! Thanks for asking!

Three Poles half-mast?

So if I have 3 poles with Old Glory on the center pole (flying higher due to pole height and a larger flag as well) and state flag on one side and Christian flag on the other side, during half-mast, do I lower the other flags on either side as well or remove them? How do I go about handing this?? Thanks and God bless!

Triple Play

The Editors's picture

Hi, BITN: Up to you… You can lower the other two or take them down—either is OK. Thanks for asking, and blessings to you, too!

When flying our American flag

When flying our American flag is it proper to fly a thin blue line flag directly below the U.S. flag

Right and Wrong

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ed: It is OK to do this, although thin blue line flags are generally frowned upon as a corruption of Old Glory, regardless of their noble intent. Thanks for asking!

U.S.Flag display.

When U.S. Flags are displayed/hung along a roadway, are they suppose to be hung on their own staffs, at an angle and pointed in toward each other, pointed away from the nearest biulding?

Pointed Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Pat: It’s a little hard to envision what you’re describing, but flags along a roadway don’t necessarily need to be pointed in any particular way or direction. Thanks for asking!

Flags used for burial

We have the flag that draped the casket of my grandfather-in-law's casket. Is it proper to never use the flag again or can we fly it again?

Flyer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Drew: You may certainly fly this flag again! Thanks for asking!

American flags

My apt have committed on me hanging 2 small American flags on my deck...our lease does say no banners or flags but can they make me take down the American flag...thanks

Downer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lela: We’re afraid they can! But thanks for asking!

Displaying flag on my semi

Good morning. I’m a truck driver and want to display Old Glory on my semi. The location would be high up on the back of sleeper, bolted to the side, with a light behind it for night time driving, can I do this?? Would I need to take it down when it was raining?

Semi-Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Carlos: We think you are talking about a flag flapping in the wind up behind your sleeper. If this is so, yes, you can do this, but you would indeed not want to be flying it in bad weather unless it was an all-weather flag (and even doing that is not very respectful). Thanks for asking, and good luck!

What is appropriate for the

What is appropriate for the president to do during the playing of the national anthem....hand on heart or salute? Does it matter if the president did not serve in the military?

Optional

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cid: Whether a president served in the military in the past doesn’t matter, as the president is in the military in the present as commander-in-chief. Thus, also being a civilian at the same time, he is the only one who has the option of saluting or putting his right hand over the heart (although the latter is preferable since he does not have a uniform). Thanks for asking!

US Flag

Can I put an image on the actual flag itself? Say a portrait of my family, or my dog?

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