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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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?

Oldie But Goodie

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paula: There is nothing technically wrong with flying such a beautiful old flag (which is now considered a historical artifact or art), but obviously you should be prepared to answer some questions! Thanks for asking!

Which U.S. flag is to be saluted when a color guard is present?

In a stadium, a U.S. flag is being flown. Then a Color Guard comes onto the field and stops at mid-field. The crowd is instructed to salute the stadium’s flag at the end of the football field. Which flag should be saluted, the stadium flag or the U. S. Flag presented by the Color Guard?

Question Fielded

The Editors's picture

Hi, Terry: The stadium flag would be saluted because it is higher. Thanks for asking!

How to display a flag

I noticed that my uncle was going to hang a flag upside down with stars side down was he trying to say something or did he know not what he was doing or did I not know what I was doing when I put with stars up towards the sky was he going to do that as a sign of dire distress? Also when displaying a flag while living in an apartment should the flag be on the right side of the building?

Distressed?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Justin: Old Glory should always be mounted with the blue “union” (stars) at the upper left. When mounted on a building, she should be on the left side of the front when viewed from the street. Old Glory flown upside down is indeed a symbol of distress and cry for help, as with a boat adrift at sea. Whether your uncle is distressed is beyond the divining skills of even the Old Farmer, but do please make sure that he is OK. Thanks for asking!

flag during high winds

Can a flag be tied around the pole during inclement weather versus taking it down?

Tied?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: No, this should not be done. Thanks for asking!

Geound (stake) flags

Hello, I was just wanting to see if I could get some clarification on displaying ground flags along my driveway. Do they need to be lit at night? They're only 12 in big. Any help as much appreciated!

Paving the Way

The Editors's picture

Hi, Matt: These really should be taken in at night, but we aren’t telling. Often with Old Glory, it’s the thought that counts. Thanks for asking!

Flag pole

Is the flag suppose to wrap around the pole?

Wrapped

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michiel: It’s not supposed to, but it often does. Just part of being Old Glory. Thanks for asking!

"Thin blue line" flags

Forgive me if this has already been addressed. Is it okay to alter the design of the flag for specific groups? The "thin blue line" flags that are supposed to support the police seem somewhat disrespectful to Ol' Glory. It's just the US flag turned black and white with one of the stripes turned blue. This alteration in particular strikes me as off since it's meant to single out one group while the US flag is all about unity and one nation. Maybe I'm off base, but I don't like seeing it. I'm a Marine and would never even consider changing our flag (unless a new state joins the union, of course).

Corps Response

The Editors's picture

Hi, Andy: Thank you for serving and for asking this question! Blue-line flags and other such altered versions are in bad taste in our opinion, although they are perfectly acceptable as flag art and deservedly protected by Freedom of Speech. Thanks again!

Proper order of precedence

My wife gave me a 25' flagpole with a yardarm. We have the US flag on the main pole with the state flag below it. The yardarm is at the height of the bottom of the state flag. Flying from the yardarm to the left we have a Betsy Ross 13-star flag and on the right, a political candidate's flag. I have seen that it is okay to fly two US flags in this manner, but is the second US flag on the yardarm considered below the state flag? Is flying a political candidate's flag acceptable? I've read that certain flags are improper to fly with the US flag.

Complicated But Simple

The Editors's picture

Hi, Craig: Thank you for this complicated question with a simple answer, which is that what you are doing is fine. Old Glory is the U.S. flag currently “in effect.” Any others are historical artifacts, or art. In flag-flying, current governments take priority, so, yes: first U.S., then state. After that, your yardarm flags require no special order, although we would place Betsy Ross to the left when viewed because it is indeed a legacy Old Glory and that’s where U.S. flags on yardarms go. Thanks again!

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