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!

SUPER DISCOUNT!

Celebrate Almanac Tradition and Save 57% with a Charter Membership in The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club

Best Value Club

You are invited to join The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club at a Special Savings!

An incredible value—57% off for you!
For traditional Almanac fans:
Just $29.97! You save 57%!

Get the best value for your Almanac dollar with these essentials. Claim you Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club Charter Membership today!

YES, sign me up now!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Double Duty

The Editors's picture

Hi, Erik: Yes, you may fly another smaller flag below the U.S. flag on the same staff. It’s important that they do not touch, and the separation distance should be about 15% of the length of the U.S. flag (in this case, 9 inches), although you can cheat on this a little if you wish. Thanks for asking!

Flags in a craft project

I have old single pane windows that I have been using for crafts. I want to use a flag in the window for display but it doesn't fit properly. I have tried folding it and wonder if it is inappropriate to cut it but make it fit nicely where it doesn't change flag meaning to display it nicely in the frame. I don't want to do anything to offend people because I believe it's beautiful when completed to display. I also would like to add to outside of glass a sentence reading "one nation under God". Is it alright to have something like that over it? Can you advise me if this would be appropriate?

Crafty Idea

The Editors's picture

Hi, Julie: This sounds like a beautiful idea, but unfortunately it is not proper to cut a flag like this. We would try to fold it such that it is “hanging” vertically, with the union in the upper left corner as you face it. Usually it is not proper to place lettering or anything else in front of the flag that would interfere with the full flag receiving a full viewing (aka full respect), but since this is more or less a work of art, we would probably look the other way. Good luck!

American flag as art?

Your answer to Crafty Idea is not right. I'm a Viet Nam Vet and would find it really hard to "look the other way" just because someone considers it "art". I was 19 in Nam and felt like 30 in a few weeks. We lost good friends that year. Ssgt. Wissigg's and A1C Davis's family got a flag...not a piece of "art". They both had children and wives.

proper angle

I have two flags I fly on either side of my front door I walk through them comming and going what is the proper angle they should be hung from the house.I believe it to be 45 degrees am I correct.

A Matter of Degrees

The Editors's picture

Hi, Pete: Great question! Yes, 45 degrees definitely works. The two considerations are that the flag must fly/hang freely and not touch anything else, and the rule of thumb is that in still air, at least half of the flag should be viewable (i.e, unfurled). Thanks for asking!

Empty Flag Pole

Hello. I am rather bent out of shape about this ... the American Flag was taken down in my town over 4 weeks ago and has not been replaced. I understand they can be taken down for replacement or cleaning, but it is not customary to 'replace' it with another one? I can't get any straight answers from our town officials as to what is going on. Please tell me what the appropriate procedure is. Thank you!

Absence Makes the Heart ...

The Editors's picture

Hi, Angela: Thank you for caring so much about this. Whether or when your town flies the flag is up to them. Perhaps it was being flown incorrectly (unlit at night, nonweatherproof flag subject to elements, tattered) and they wanted to do the right thing. Perhaps not putting a flag back up is a budgetary thing. Perhaps the pole or halyard is not trustworthy. Perhaps no one knows why it is not back up. We would suggest getting your local American Legion or VFW to go to bat for you – and all of us. Thanks again!

Thin blue line

Starting to hear of people modifying the American Flag with a blue line to honor the service of the police. Was wondering if this is considered appropriate? Thanks for all of your thoughtful answers to everyone's question. Very interesting and helpful.

Nice thought, but . . .

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paul: You’re welcome! And to answer your question: While the sentiment and practice of modifying the flag to honor police are obviously well-intentioned, doing so is inappropriate. Thanks for asking!

Adjusting the size of the flag

My friend wants me to shorten the end of the flag due to where he wants to hang it. This would make sure it doesn't touch the railing. Then he wants to insert a pole in the bottom that was shortened so that it will hang firmly down. I am not sure if that is advisable because it will alter the dimensions of the flag. We do not plan on cutting the flag, just folding it up and stitching it to be shorter. Please give me your advice to 'do the right thing'. Thank you!

Time to Rethink

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gerri: Thank you for caring so much to ask these questions. Your instincts are correct. It is not proper to shorten the length of the U.S. flag disproportionately. While you will find flags with many different proportions for the relationship between the length and width – and to some extent, it is OK if they are off by a little – the correct ratio is 1.9:1. That is, a flag that is 24 inches high officially should be 45.6 (24 x 1.9) inches long. Regarding the insertion of a rod to serve as a uniformly distributed weight and straightener so that the flag will hang down perfectly flat, you would think that this would be a no-brainer OK. However, this notion runs counter to one of the underlying principles of flying the U.S. flag, which is that it should fly freely and be free, like our country. Thanks again!

How Long to Leave Flag Out??

My neighbors put out their flags on the 9th for Veterans Day. It is now going to be the 17th and they are still flying their flags!
How long is the proper amount of days to leave my flag out??

Great Question!

The Editors's picture

Hi, RIO: It’s never too late to answer this, and we don’t mean to be “cute” with you, but the proper amount of days to leave your flag out is 365! If you’ve got a flag, don’t wait for an occasion – fly it! Thanks for asking!

When to fly the American Flag

I fly mine ALL the time. But at the beginning it says from sunrise to sunset. Except at night on special occasions. It's stated here to this gentlemans question. You stated. 365 days a year. What is it? I fly mine ALL the time because ALL THE ISSUES WE ARE GOING THROUGH NOW !

Flying it from my vehicle

I have a 7ft pole and the flag is mounted at the top to fly freely, but I want to fly it from my vehicle the pole has its own mounting stop on my truck 2 ft down, to make the flag fly at 5ft, the flag is a 3X5 flag. Is there a limit/height requirement on how high it's allowed to fly on my vehicle?
It secured in and is strong and sturdy and holds up to freeway/highway speeds. I want to fly it but don't want to get a ticket for it when I see other vehicles flying theirs and a lot taller than 4.5-5ft. Please someone tell me height requirements if there is any

I have requested for a 5x8

I have requested for a 5x8 cotton flag be flown over the States Capitol in honor of my sons beginning Crucible date (for the Marines). This flag will be flown and sent to me. Can I embroider via a sewing machine, "In honor of...." and then his name?

Can anyone help me with this

Can anyone help me with this question. We are trying to raise our red flag which is to be placed under the American flag. We how ever can't find the correct way to hang it. For those who don't know what a red flag is. It means extreme fire and weather. This flag is to be hung at our fire station. Does anyone know the correct answer and where we as a fire agency can find it.

Hi, Rh: Thank you for asking

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rh: Thank you for asking this question, although we're not exactly sure what it is! Although it is not customary to fly an event flag below the U.S. flag, there is nothing wrong with it. Your red flag will be attached to the same halyard as the U.S. flag, but below it. A good rule of thumb for separation distance is 15% of the length of the U.S. flag. So if your U.S. flag were 6 feet across (72 inches), the separation distance would be 10.8 inches. If you are talking about flying them from separate staffs, then it is OK to have them at the same height, although we would recommend flying the red one slightly lower. In this case, if you were inside the fire station looking out at the street, the U.S. flag would be on your right, with the red flag to the left of it. Looking from the street, the U.S. flag would be on the left. Hope this helps!

My company has 3 equal height

My company has 3 equal height flag poles in a triangle pattern with lights.
the flags are:

USA
POLAND
Connecticut (State)

I know the USA flag goes in front.
Where should the others be placed in the back row of two?
Can all 3 flags be the same height?

Thanks !

Hi, Tab: Interesting! Yes,

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tab: Interesting! Yes, assuming that the U.S. flagpole position is clearly front, first and foremost, then you are OK there. Imagine a triangle with the base a the bottom. The top point is #1. The bottom left is #2. The bottom right is #3. #1 is the U.S., highest. #2 and #3 are the same height, but lower than #1. The Polish flag would go on #3. Thanks for asking!

In our church, we are proud

In our church, we are proud Americans which also honor Israel. They have 4 flags, 2 US flags and 2 Israel flags. They usually display them on the stage in this order: on the speakers left-first Israel, then US to its left; on the speakers right-first Israel, then US to its right. Is this okay or how should it be changed when our associate likes all 4 on the stage. Also the Israel flags are slightly smaller than the US flags if that helps with the answer. We want to be respectful.

Hi, TJ: Great question --

The Editors's picture

Hi, TJ: Great question -- thanks to you and the congregation for bringing it up. What you describe is incorrect. In each pair of flags, the U.S. flag should be to the speaker's right. So, from the audience, from left to right, it would be U.S., Israel, [speaker], U.S., Israel. Thanks again!

So today my Sergeant major

So today my Sergeant major told me I wasn't allowed to fly my american flag because when not moving or parked it touches my tailgate. How true is this? Am I not allowed to? Is there a rule against it? I know it says not to drape. But what about when a flag hangs on a pole on a not so windy day?

Taken from above: "It should

Taken from above: "It should never touch anything beneath it..."

He is right when your flag is

He is right when your flag is draped from a pole it is supposed to be free flowing not touching ground water merchandise. If it touches your tail gate you need to a raise the pole until the flag doesn't touch or be remove it. I would prefer u do a. Raise that flag up. Always fly that flag in honor and with respect.

I have a casket mounted on

I have a casket mounted on trailer that I pull with my bike. I want to have the flag proffessionally painted on it with a plaque that reads; a reminder to you, of all who paid the ultimate price....for your freedom. Would that be tacky, disrespectful, or just plain wrong thing to do? I want to honor the fallen, but don't want to piss anyone off.

As a former service member i

As a former service member i personally think that is a perfect tribute to our fallen heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country

Does the Flag Code MATTER

Does the Flag Code MATTER these days? Of course it matters, but does it matter as much as it used to in civilian life?

This is an honest question. It’s not about the values the flag symbolizes or the historical events some of its elements refer to. It’s not about whether it’s good to show respect for the American Flag. Of course it is. This is not my question. I personally try to always follow the Flag Code. It’s not the question.

The discussion on these pages is mostly about following the Flag Code. However, the Flag Code is a voluntary guide. As important as it may be, in civilian life most people haven’t heard of it. Some want to show respect to the flag but do it in ways inconsistent with the strict interpretation of the Flag Code. It’s only a voluntary guideline and people have the right to do what they want, including burning the American flag. And some Americans have been shown on TV doing exactly that this year.

Those who care about the flag and what it stands for are usually happy to see the flag displayed even in ways contrary to the Flag Code, as long as the intent is good. There are exceptions where, regardless of the intent, the display ends up being clearly disrespectful of the flag. There are also good people who believe that no deviation from the strict interpretation of the Flag Code is permissible. This opinion has been expressed on these pages by a number of people. However, outside of the military and some parts of the government, the Flag Code is at most a guideline.

I’m conflicted here.

What about a person who has the flag flying 24 hours a day, all year round, with no illumination at night? This can be seen as a violation of the Flag Code if the strict literal interpretation is used. Let’s say there is also some other technical violation. Let’s say the person is not complying with the strict interpretation of the Flag Code. Should anyone go and tell that person it’s disrespectful to the flag and what the flag stands for? Should anyone go and say to this person, “What you’re doing is wrong! You’re showing disrespect to the flag! You probably don’t intend it, so please change what you’re doing, and please do it right now. This is important!” It’s obvious that no disrespect is intended by this person. What is it turns out this person is an old lady who has a US flag always flying in honor of her son who died defending our country?

What about American athletes who often wrap themselves in flags after victory? They surely don’t mean disrespect. It’s practically become a customary way for many athletes to show their patriotism and pride in being Americans. This too is a clear technical violation of the Flag Code that has been pointed out and condemned on these pages.

What about wearing a t-shirt with American flag printed on it? The strict interpretation still says it’s a US flag.

To what degree are violations of the US Flag Code are relevant in the civilian life? It’s an honest question and not criticism of those who insist on always sticking to the strict interpretation. I understand that point of view too, and I understand it very well. Most of the people who hold it have been in the military.

We seem to be seeing fewer and fewer people who would display American flag at all. Of those who do display the flag with the intent to be respectful and to express their patriotism and their feelings for what the flag stands for, many do it in ways that, based on the Flag Code, may appear lacking respect. Is this perfectly OK because the Flag Code is a voluntary guideline and people have the freedom even to burn the flag as an act of protest?

Again, it’s an honest question.

I have a question, may seem

I have a question, may seem odd, but a question nonetheless. When a flag passes you in a parade, you remove your hat until it passes, that I know. Now, I walk 5 miles, three times a week for exercise and when I pass a house with a flag out front, would it be respectful if I removed my hat as I pass that flag, or walk by with my hat on?

Pages