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

Presentable

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: This is a vast question with a vast number of answers, which we dare not get into—but it does have to be a representative of the U.S. federal government. (If there’s one thing that the Old Farmer has learned in 228 years, it’s to never try to understand Uncle Sam’s bureacracy.) Thanks for asking!

Presentation of US Flag

What is the protocol for presenting the US Flag to the family of a deceased non-military citizen?

What is the protocol for presenting the US Flag to the family of a deceased paroled convict?

Protocols Protocol

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: Really, civilian protocols are whatever people what to make them (usually modeled after military), and there is no distinction between “types” of civilians. Thanks for asking!

Proper placement of small flags

Is it proper to place small (about 6" ) flags directly in the dirt in a newly planted garden?
Some millennial neighbors did this, and I am questioning the protocol of this.

Millennial Gardeners

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nancy: It is OK to place such decorative flags directly in garden dirt, although technically they should be taken in at night if not lit and during inclement weather if not all-weather flags (which these usually aren’t). However, regarding Old Glory, it’s often helpful to remember that sometimes it’s the thought that counts. Thanks for asking!

US Flag displayed on a baseball hat

Can the flag be displayed on a baseball hat and if so which side of Hat and which direction are the stars facing?

Hatter

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ronnie: Yes, “flag art” can be on a baseball hat, with the blue field at upper left when viewed (usually on the left side of the hat as worn), regardless of on which side. Thanks for asking!

Presentation of flag

Does everyone qualify to have a flag presented to them after a family members death. even if the person deceased didn't serve in the military or a first responder. What are the rules regarding flag presentation after death?

Draped

The Editors's picture

Hi, C: While it is customary for flag-draped coffins to be reserved for veterans, in reality anyone can have anything s/he wants draped on their coffin, including Old Glory, as long as whoever is in charge will do it, and afterward she can be presented to whoever wants her. Thanks for asking!

My deceased veterans husband

I want to fly my flag half-massed today. It was his birthday. He passed away from Military War related complications. Would that be ok?

Personal Taste

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jojean: We are so sorry about your husband yet so thankful for his service. Technically, it is not OK for individuals to determine when to fly Old Glory at half-staff (imagine what this would look like across the country), but we’ll never tell. Sounds like a great reason to us. Thanks for asking!

Returning to Full-Staff

We all know what a solemn gesture it is for the flag to be flown at half-staff. My understanding is there is always a defined period after which the flag is raised back to full-staff. Since April 3rd, there has been an order in the state of New Jersey that flags should be flown at half-staff "indefinitely" at state government buildings and facilities. I fully support the intent of the gesture, which is to honor those who have lost their lives to Covid-19. However, shouldn't there be a end date to the half-staff period instead of staying at half-staff "indefinitely"?

Indefinite Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: Thanks for this excellent question. While set periods are usually the case for half-staff declarations, by practice and custom governors have come to set whatever terms they like. Thanks again!

Other flags

Is it cool to have other flags on the same staff as our nation's flag?

Flagcool

The Editors's picture

Hi, James: It’s fine to do this, but whether it’s cool is up to you. Thanks for asking!

Displaying another flag below the American flag...

Is it appropriate to display a small blue/green flag below the American flag at the lake. It represents skinny dipping. no other symbols other than the blue/green triangles. thanks in advance.

The Skinny

The Editors's picture

Hi, Susan: This is perfectly OK, but barely so. Thanks for asking!

Display flag on house

Can I display my flag which is on my house underneath a tree? We have a very large tree in front of our house and my flag mount is on the house building itself but the result is the flag sits underneath branches of the tree. This is the only way I am able to display a flag on our house, but I do not want to Hang it improperly. Please let me know if it’s OK to mount the flag on my house underneath the tree.

Treed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alex: This would be perfectly OK. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Hanging 5 flags on front of my house

I am proud to have 13 veterans/active in my immediate family -- 14 if I count Grandson in ROTC !! -- I want to hang 5 flags on front of my house, level with each other and hanging at a 90 degree angle, so the flags hand straight down and away from front of my house. I would like to have the American flag at one end of the row (on the right end as seen from the street), then US Navy, US Army, US Marines, then Nebraska State flag. Any problem with that? Thanks for the answer.

14 Military, On the Level!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Anna: Wow! Congratulations and thanks to them all—as well as to their (a-hem) commanding officer, who must be you! Your flags should be hung as follows, from left to right when viewed from the street: Old Glory, Nebraska (because it is an existing jurisdiction), US Army, US Navy, USMC (these last three, in the order of their founding). We salute all of you, and thanks for asking!

Flag.

I recently saw a pic of a flag being used as a sail on a boat. Displayed in proper way but is this an appropriate use

Flag Day 2020

The Editors's picture

Happy Flag Day, everyone, and THANK YOU, Old Glory, for your service!

Displaying the American Flag with the USN flag horizontially.

I have two 3'x5' American Flags & two 3'x5' United States Navy Flags. Can the four flags be hung in a row together? If they can be flown together what would be the sequence the flags would be in? If I understand correctly the US Flag would be flown with blue area with the stars to the left; when facing from the front. Thank you & look forward to your answer.

Aye, Aye

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeffrey: Yes, they can be hung in a row together, but technically the two Old Glories would be on the left together, then the two USN. If you wanted to alternate them, a way around this would be to again start with Old Glory on the left, then USN slightly lower, then high Old Glory, then low USN. Yes, the blue “union” should always be at the upper left, regardless of whether Old Glory is mounted horizontally or vertically. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Blue Line Flag

2 questions: I have a small 3 flag mounting base. Ok to mount US in middle of 2 Thin Blue Line flags?
I place 7 US Flags outside along a street curbing. Ok to start and end the line with a Thin Blue
Line Flag?

Blue Line Blues

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: In all cases, Old Glory should either be higher than other flags (even if just by a little) or at the far left when viewed from the most viewed perspective. In the case of the curbing, a good solution might be to put Old Glory in the middle of the line, but in a flower pot or something to raise it up a little. Thanks for asking!

Flying the US flag above blue line flak

Can I have the blue line flag below the US flag on the same pole.

Blue Below

The Editors's picture

Hi, Richard: Yes, you may, and thanks for asking!

Flag

What flags can be flown on the same flag pole as the American flag? How much separation between the flags?

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