U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag
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.

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 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

The flag at night

The best way for me to hang the American Flag is in the center of my front door overhang. This will require a ladder to reach the flag pole, so I would need to leave it up at night. I have no way to illuminate the flag at night. Is this considered disrespectful? I want to do this right. Thank you in advance for your insight and critique.

Front and Center

Hi, Kathy: Well, our main critique is that you should be much commended for caring so much and taking the time to ask—thank you! Even an Old Glory in this position needs to be lit at night, though. We would look into some sort of solar-powered light(s), however small, which might be able to get the job done. You may even be able to find one or more that could clip (or be taped) onto your flag staff and shine down on it, however dimly. When it comes to doing right by Old Glory, there’s no such thing as thinking too far outside the box to come up with a solution. Good luck, and thanks for asking!

Display of US Flag on microphone stand

I have a band mate that wants to display the US Flag (18" across) at the top of his mic stand, just below where the microphone sits at the top.

I worry this is in conflict with the spirit of the Flag Code.
Thanks

Dan'd Band Not Banned

Hi, Dan: This is perfectly OK as long as it’s done respectfully… thanks for asking!

Using a Flag as a background for headshots.

Is it permitted to use an American flag as a background for a portrait or a headshot?

Background Information

Hi, James: Sure is! Thanks for asking!

The American Flag Painted as a Wall Mural

Is it permissible to:

1 - paint the American Flag on a wall as a mural then
2 - paint the names of former students who have served our country on the stripes?

Thank you.

Flag Mural

Hi, Karen: Yes, it is… see the many answers below on Flag Art. Thanks for asking!

can you cut out individual stars from the flag

We make tokens of appreciation for veterans by placing a poem of thanks and a star from a retired flag into a tiny zip-lock bag. We treat the flag with respect while cutting out the stars and then take the leftover pieces from the flag to a fire dept where they burn the scraps along with whole donated flags to be retired. Is it permissible to cut out the stars for this project? There seems to be a mix of opinion depending on who I ask. Please clear this up for me! Many thanks!

Repurposing II

Hi, Nancy: It is OK to do this. See the answer below on “Repurposing” and thanks for asking!

A combination US/Confederate flg

I saw someone flying a combination US/Confederate flag. This seems to me as being wrong and disrespectful.

The Short Answer Is ...

Hi, D: It is. Thanks for asking!

Flag retirement

What is the proper way to burn a flag during retirement? Should it be folded or cut into pieces before burned

Feel the Burn

Hi, James: It is preferable to burn the flag when folded, but this may work only when there is a relatively big conflagration with lots of flames and heat. Of course, with today’s synthetics, sometimes it will just melt (so watch out for fumes!). If you feel that a flag will not burn properly when folded, it is permissible to cut it into quarters, with the union being one of them (i.e., don’t cut up the union). As long as the procedure and ceremony are respectful, almost anything goes to get the job done. Thanks for asking!

Tattered Flag in my neighborhood

Please help me resolve this situation. A neighbor has a terribly ragged US Flag on a crooked pole in their yard. I have called the American Legion, VFW and my town code enforcer. NOONE can help me as this is on private property.
I do not wish to have an encounter with a neighbor who has a very unkept yard as it is. I don't understand why they just don't respect the flag and remove it.

What We Always Say

Hi, Diane: Thank you for taking the time to express the angst that so many patriots sometimes feel. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do about this. When that is the case, we always remind people that it’s the thought that counts, and that any Old Glory is better than no Old Glory. It is also sometimes helpful to remember that no matter how bad this flag looks and how horrible its surroundings, you can absolutely, positively be guaranteed that somewhere in our history—many times!—there has been an even more bedraggled Old Glory under even worse conditions that has been defended by patriots’ lives and honor just so that your neighbors can have the right to fly theirs as they choose. So, take heart! A poorly displayed Old Glory is not old glory—it is still Old Glory! And thanks for asking!

I was wondering about the

I was wondering about the police department using the flag as a filler in the letters. Laguna beach in California did and was wondering what the rules were for that

used as a filler in a letter

well to be blunt shame on them they of all people should know better. The US flag should not ever be used in or on anything disposable or as a shirt. I know you are thinking of the availability of the "patriotic" shirts, shorts, napkins, plates . . . (gasp). I cringe every summer from the influx of misused flag symbols mostly from china.
OK sorry for the soap box, stepping down now.
I hope that has answered your question
Gary

Police Car Lettering

Hi, Ginger: What you are talking about is “hollow” lettering on the sides of police cars spelling P-O-L-I-C-E that has been filled in with artsy blue with white stars on the left and a couple of red/white stripes on the right. These are not really flag depictions, but more like artwork with a patriotic theme that calls to mind Old Glory. Thus, from a technical standpoint, this is perfectly OK. Whether it is in good taste is left to the eyes of the beholder. Thanks for asking!

sould a flag be displaed in front of a town court house

there are no rules I can find about displaing a flag in front of a court house

flag at the courthouse

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.
So yes it should be flown.
Gary

Court is in Session!

Hi, Kimberly: What Gary says above (thanks!) is correct…. plus, there are no special rules regarding Old Glory flying in front of a courthouse, in case that is what you were asking. Thanks for caring so much!

Proper display

As I understand it the nations flag should not be embroidered/ printed on clothing even if it isn’t used with advertisement? I see the flag printed on T-shirt’s denim jackets and the like. I wore a flag bandana in my hair for years. Was that disrespectful? I was taught that the union should never be displayed on the right side but didn’t see that printed in your etiquette list. I’m I incorrect here also. Looks like I need to review this again. Regards KH

The Clothing Business

Hi, Keely: Although often disrespectful and frowned upon, wearing Old Glory images as clothing is technically OK. What is not OK is wearing what could be a complete flag as clothing. So, if your bandana was just a small flag, then yes, that was disrespectful. The union should always be in the upper left, with the exception of arm patches, with which it is now acceptable to have the union in the upper right on the right hand sleeve, representing the flag flowing backward as the wearer charges forward into action. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Quilts of Valor

The question comes up often of how much can the resemblance to the US Flag be when making a Quilt of Valor or a Patriotic quilt. What are the National rules on this subject, thank you!

Flag Art Cont.

Hi, Karol: This is flag art… please see the many related answers below and thanks for asking!

Flag dressing

Is fringe on a flag allowed?

fringe on the flag

My personal feeling is tacky in a home or that sort of display, but in every court room I have been in the flag has gold fringe on it.

Fringe Subject

Hi, Virgil: Fringe is perfectly OK and is common for some armed services units. It is considered a complimentary embellishment that is neither required nor deemed unseemly. Thanks for asking!

Flag ettiquet

Is it permissible under flag ettiquet to remove the stars from a retired flag to be issued to individuals. No disrespect was meant by it. But it seems to be improper.
Thanks

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