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

Separation Anxiety

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paul: Technically, any flag can be flown below Old Glory. Separation varies, depending on the sizes of the flags, but usually is 6 inches to 1 foot. One-fifth to one-quarter of the height (or “hoist”) of Old Glory’s blue union often works out to be a good rule of thumb. Thanks for asking!

images of flags

I have read some of your comments regarding the use of flag images on things like table cloths, masks, etc. and am wondering at what point is it wrong to use the image? In the rules, it states it's not to be used on paper napkins or boxes, nor any portion of a costume, yet you see it all of the time. If used on other items, should the rules of display be followed (ie: flying in correct direction, nothing laid on top, disposed of properly, etc)?Also when is "flag art" disrespectful? I have seen the flag image on a scull on those game boards for throwing bean bags in. I think this is disrespectful, but not sure what rules are for it.

The Rules on the Rules

The Editors's picture

Hi, Donna: First of all, thank you for taking the time to read other comments before posting your questions—you can serve as a great role model for many of us! Your questions seem pretty complicated, but really they boil down to a simple one: What is permissible usage for the image of Old Glory? Our answers could get pretty complicated, too, but really they, too, could be boiled down to a simple one: Just about anything. There are several factors at play here. One is that the U.S. Flag Code is strictly advisory. Another is that there is no statute in effect that governs use of the flag’s image—and for good reason. Over the years, courts have consistently ruled that our Freedom of Speech would supersede any such law and that basically people can do whatever they want with Old Glory and her image without fear of penalty. In many ways, this is the ultimate testament to a true democracy with the freedoms outlined by our forebears, and we have advised many that when seeing disrespect or misuse of Old Glory, it helps to have the mind-set that such is actually proof of a freedom that we all hold dear. Respect and disrespect for how Old Glory’s image is used is another matter, and it is only through the persistent patriotic efforts of millions of fine folks like you—many of whom have spoken up in the pages below—that the need for respect of Old Glory is kept in the spotlight not just now, but also for future generations. In short, anything goes, which makes it all the more important that you—and we—continue to make sure that the bar for respect of Old Glory is set very high, regardless of what “rules,” code, or advice may or may not be in place. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask, and Happy Flag Day on June 14!

American flag

During National Anthem should American flag remain still or can it be moving?

Moving Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sharon: It can be moving. Thanks for asking!

Flag display

Your instructions for vertical display on a house notes the Union should be to the observers left. Which observers? The passerby or the person displaying the flag. Mine is on the side of my porch so the passerby sees one side and the people on the porch see the opposite?

Streetwise

The Editors's picture

Hi, Edgar: As viewed from the street. Thanks for asking!

Displaying the American flag on private residence.

I’d like to know what the proper protocol is when disposing of an American flag.

I’d like to know if there is a certain amount of feet the flag must be off the ground.

Can I display my flag on a my border fence?

3 Q, 3 A

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mr. M: The proper protocol is by respectful burning, which is usually done with ceremony and by carefully unfolding and feeding Old Glory into the flames so that absolutely all is burned, rather than just throwing her in as a bundle and having to possibly deal with reburning charred but unconsumed remains. Usually, your local Legion or VFW can help you with this or even may conduct a ceremony themselves. Old Glory’s minimum distance from the ground depends on how she is flown or mounted, but at the very least she should never being in danger of touching it. Often the height of her blue union is a good guideline for minimum distance, but again, this varies. And, yes, your flag can certainly be displayed on a fence if it is assured of being kept clean. Thanks for asking!

Hanging pride flag alongside of American flag

We have five flags displayed in front of our building. They are generally all American flags. I need to hang the pride flag two to three if allowable. How should they all be hung? Right now we have Pride, US, pride, US & pride

With Pride

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jason: If these are all the same height, then you would need to stick with two, with Old Glory on the left as you face them. If you really wanted five, then it should be US-US-Pride-Pride-Pride. But the best way would be to fly the Pride flags slightly lower than the two U.S. That way, you could keep your original configuration of five. Thanks for asking!

American flag

I seen a flag a large flag on a flag pole it was an american flag with the stars and stripes and it has TRUMP across the middle of the flag is this allowed and is it disrespect to our american flag there was another american flag above it. I dont know what to think about it. Please email me about this.

Tops

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cynthia: As long as Old Glory is flown at the top, this is OK, although it is always in bad taste to write any letters across her in any way, including for a political flag. Thanks for asking!

Mail

I need to send a flag to a relative in another state. This flag was on my grandfather’s casket & folded in the triangular shape. Is there specific protocol for mailing.(

Mailtocol

The Editors's picture

Hi, Trev: Only to be sure that Old Glory is kept clean and dry in shipment. Thanks for asking!

u.s. flag

can another flag be hoisted on the same staff as the us flag

Yup

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: Yes, and thanks for asking!

Flag Display Question

Question: For an indoor American flag on a pole, is there a minimum distance between the bottom of the hanging flag on the pole and the floor?

Distance Learning

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: A good rule of thumb is that the distance should be at least the height (vertical dimension) of the blue “union” of the flag. Thanks for asking!

protocol states

I would like to know what is the protocol for dismissing a tattered state flag is it similar as the American flag or not.

Clearly Stated

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ben: This differs by state, by usually is similar. Thanks for asking!

Flags flown with the US flag

Should a political flag such as "Trump For 2020", be allowed to be flown on the same polw as the US flag. I say "NO".

Yes

The Editors's picture

HI, John: It is perfectly OK for a political flag to be flown below Old Glory as long as it is in good taste. Thanks for asking!

Flag at half-staff

I live in a retirement community and we have a lot of veterans. When they die, is it proper to fly our US flag at half-staff as a way of honoring their service?

Half-Staff All the Way

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nancy: Old Glory is flown at half-staff only at the direction of the president and governors and in several other cases grandfathered by custom. “Ordinary citizens” shouldn’t decide to do it, because you can imagine what the country would look like if there were a flag at half-staff for some random excellent purpose everywhere you turned. This would certainly devalue the honor associated with official half-staff flyings. All this being said, it is often the thought that counts, and we’re not telling. Thanks for asking!

Flagpole placement

Was curious and need to know what side of the headstone you place a flagpole at a private cemetery?

Grave Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alejandro: You would place it to the left of the headstone or in front of the left edge of the headstone as you faced it. Thanks for asking!

Having two American Flags on same Flag Pole

I was curious as to what the rules are on having two American flags on the same flag pole. One of them obviously would be the 50 star current flag and the other would be the original Betsy Ross 13 star flag under it. Is there anything against doing something like this?

Two Good

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alex: This would be fine. The Betsy Ross is now considered flag art. Thanks for asking!

large flag display

I have a 5 x 9 1/2 foot flag that I would like to display on Independence Day coming up. BUT... It has 48 stars. Am I allowed to fly it?

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