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

Flying a Folded Flag

When my dad died he was given a military burial for his service in WWII. As his closest relative, I was presented with the folded flag in his honor. I've seen such flags displayed in a glass case; but I am wondering if it is appropriate to unfold and fly the flag? Would that dishonor the flag, my father's memory, or my father's service to this country?

An Honor

The Editors's picture

Hi, Camille: We thank your late father for his service, as well as you for being so patriotic to ask this question. It is perfectly OK to fly this flag. In fact, many folks consider this another way of further honoring the deceased, by letting Old Glory fly with their spirit. Thanks again!

Overnight Display

Hung on a residence; must the flag be taken in each night?

Night Sight

The Editors's picture

Hi, Norm: Yes, it should be. Thanks for asking!

The Us Flag

Can flags representing other political points of view, i.e. Pride Day or ?? be flown on the same staff as the U.S flag?

Views

The Editors's picture

Hi, Judy: Yes, as long as they are not vile or disrespectful to Old Glory herself. Thanks for asking!

Flag display

Can the American flag pole be placed in front of another flag pole towards the road, outside view.

Front and Center

The Editors's picture

Hi, Don: It most certainly may. Thanks for asking!

flag at 1/2 staff

they fly the flag at 1/2 staff for people that did serve the USA. why?

Why Non-Veterans?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Robert: We think that you mean “did NOT serve the USA.” The reason that this is OK is that flying Old Glory at half-staff has long been used to honor nonmilitary civilians as well as veterans. This harkens back to our heritage of a civilian military and the notion that all Americans are created equal. Thanks for asking!

Plastic tablecloth American flag

Should an Ameican flag plastic tablecloth be used to cover a table?

Tabled

The Editors's picture

Hi, Thomas: To do so is not really in good taste (a-hem!), but this is OK because it is not an actual flag. Thanks for asking!

Flags on street poles

Can you tell me when displaying the American flag on street poles with metal display art type banners (such as saying Business Pride) at the top of the poles,can the American flag be put underneath those type of banners and how far from the street/sidewalk can they be hanging?

Business Pride

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joan: It is acceptable to do this if there is no other way. Old Glory should be at a height such that the distance below her is equal to or greater than her own height when hanging down. In other words, the distance from her lowest point when hanging should be equal to or greater than the distance between her lowest point and highest point. Thanks for asking!

Half staff with an MIA flag

When the US flag is at half staff is it permitted or proper to fly another flag (state, MIA, county) below it like we do when the flag flys in its normal position at the top of a pole?

Double Half

The Editors's picture

Hi, Richard: Yes, it is. Thanks for asking!

Displaying US Flag and Vietnam Veteran Flag on house

Would like to hang both flags on a house mount. Can they be mounted together horizontal, i.e. both at the same level, or should the Veteran Flag be mounted below the US Flag?

Twofer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: They both can be at the same level, as long as Old Glory is on the left when viewed from the street. Thanks for asking!

Displaying a deceased veteran's flag

Is it proper to fly this flag outside a residence, following the proper protocols set forth in the U.S. Flag Code?

Honored to Do So

The Editors's picture

Hi, Madeleine: Most certainly! Thanks for asking!

Pledge

Should the Pledge of Allegiance be said with The Flag at half staff, or before it is lowered?

Pledged

The Editors's picture

Hi, Martha: Either way is fine. Thanks for asking!

Parachuting with a US flag

I recently saw (on TV) a parachutist land in a rodeo arena with a US flag "flown" off a trailing line having a weight at its end. The weight kept the line fairly vertical, and the flag streamed out behind (but well below) the jumper. A nice effect, granted.

Not shown on TV was what happened to the flag as the jumper landed in the dirt of the arena. Presumably, the flag also landed (and was dragged) in the dirt, and maybe other material, before being gathered up. Is the high probability of this happening considered an acceptable risk during a somewhat "gimmicky" display of the flag?

When Unacceptable Is Acceptable

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: This is never acceptable, but sometimes it’s helpful to remember that it’s thought and effect that count. Thanks for asking!

Flags displayed flat

Under "HOW NOT TO DISPLAY THE AMERICAN FLAG":

"The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free."

I've often seen large flags unfurled flat in civic parades. That is, they are carried parallel to the ground by a large number of people around the perimeter. This sounds like exactly the forbidden method of display described above. Is this common practice a violation of the flag code?

Glad Someone's Paying Attention

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: Yes, it is! Thanks for asking!

Half Mast Display

On a wall mounted holder is the proper way to display the flag horizontally?

Half-Wall-Mast

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rick: No. The proper thing to do is to tie a black or dark purple ribbon or streamer to the top of the flagstaff and fly it as usual. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag

Rule during a pandemic how should USA flag be displayed?

Watching the Days Go By

The Editors's picture

Hi, Frannie: The same as it ever was. Thanks for asking!

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