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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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?

According to guidelines u

According to guidelines u remove your hat or salute when raising or lowering and as it passes u by in a parade. Respectful to remove hat while walking by yes but not necessary.

I have seen the flag flying

I have seen the flag flying at half staff & it looks as if it is too low. What is the correct placement of the flag? Is the top of the flag supposed to be at the halfway point of the staff? Or is the halfway point of the flag supposed to be at the halfway point of the staff? Or is it another way that I haven't mentioned. Thank you in advance.

top of the flag should be at

top of the flag should be at the halfway point on the staff

Is it possible the staff is

Is it possible the staff is too short for the size of the flag, and this makes it appear the flag is too low and too close to the ground? Usually you can't tell the difference between the two flag positions you mention, unless you're the one who raises and lowers the flag. If the staff short, the difference is noticeable to passersby.

Should the colors be

Should the colors be presented and then posted for the duration of a benefit concert in a bar? A small gathering in what is considered a dive bar, specifically. Seems to me the wrong environment for display of the colors.

We would like to hang a flag

We would like to hang a flag in our children's bedroom. Can they hang it with nails? We have searched flag etiquette and found nothing against using nails. However I found that even using brass tacks would be defacing or causing damage to the flag.

Best is: ALL flags have

Best is: ALL flags have mouting strips, usually with at least one grommet at the top middle and bottom, some have4 or 5 (3' x 5' flag, for instance). If there are no grommets, mount them at the head end (from field corner to bottom stripe. Then use a dowel rod fitting alternately between the holes of the grommets, longer than the width of the flag so you have about 6 inches protruding out both ends of the width of the flag along it's mounting strip. Then hang the flag usint eh dowl ends on hooks. Hang the flag this way so that tjhe field is to your left, as it looks hanging on the wall, and stripes down.

You could hang the flag hirzontally, same way, some flags comes with a pocket along the top (when the field is at the top, of course, as it should be). Move a dowel through that pocket, again a dowel that will protrude out both sides of the length-wise glafg, and mount to the wall same as above.

Sewing grommets or pockets to a flag for hanging doesNOT desacrate the flag, but use white material and extend it from the edges of the flag - dont folde the flag to create the pockets - use new, extra material for this purpose.

You can also use binder clips (office supplies) along the hanging edge, with care to protect the flag from the metal pinching into the flag material, that might casue ripping.

i have a long porch with 2

i have a long porch with 2 separate flag poles attached to the railing. Does it matter which side the American Flag is on. the flag of Poland is the same size. I do not want to be disrespectful

YEs, as per the code! US Flag

YEs, as per the code! US Flag to the RIGHT of the other, second flag (only when two flags present, when more than two, the US Flag needs to be in the center andf higher of an even amount of others, and ahead of the middle flag of an odd number and higher of others)

Why are flags printed on our

Why are flags printed on our postal stamps when regulation presents that the flag should not be printed on paper at all thank you

We have a family run farm and

We have a family run farm and processing company. We recently installed a flag pole and we are proudly displaying the U.S. flag that is illuminated at night. My question is whether or night flying a flag with our Company logo underneath the U.S. flag is appropriate or if it would be disrespctful

Not at all, the Scouts (Girls

Not at all, the Scouts (Girls AND Boys) doit for their logo flags. American Hotels does it at their Linconshire HQ. Marriott Resort Hotels do it.

But, do NOT light the logo flag, light ONLY the US Flag. OR atleast, the US flag should be obviously brighter than the other flag.

I am a Disabled Veteran and

I am a Disabled Veteran and if I remember correctly there is one time that another Flag may fly above the American Flag. That is the Chaplin's/Church Flag.

That's exactly right. This

That's exactly right. This specific exception is in the Flag Code where it says this is allowed "during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy."

This is temporary while religious services are being held and is limited to the Navy. It's not in other branches of military service. The two authorized pennants right now are Christian and Jewish. However, raising any pennant during religious services is becoming less common. Placing it above the American flag is now rare. In part it's probably the desire to avoid the problem of creating and flying pennants for other religious denominations and the less traditional christian denominations. The Navy now has chaplains representing several christian denominations as well as more recently Buddhist and Muslim chaplains.

The one religious ceremony that still customarily has a church (Christian or Jewish) pennant flying is burial at sea. Even then it's not necessary flown above the American Flag.

The Flag Code seems to refer

The Flag Code seems to refer to taking down the flag for the night, unless it's illuminated, only when the flag is flown on a staff.

The Code not entirely clear, but the standard interpretation appears to be that when an all-weather flag is placed outside vertically on a wall, window, fence, balcony or door, it can be left for 24 hours even if there is no light at night. Is this correct?

The flag is fixed in a vertical position (attached at four points) and not flown on a flagstaff. I'm pretty sure it's all right not to have it illuminated at night, but there is also additional concern that some people would think it's wrong. They might see this as disrespect to the flag when the exact opposite is intended.

It goes without saying that the flag is positioned vertically on a wall, window or door the Union (blue) so that it is to the observer's left. The question is only about the lack of illumination at night.

Happy Forth!

It's not fair to people who

It's not fair to people who want the flag to stay up.we are proud of our flag and it should stay up.it has nothing to do with blacks and whites.

Thanks. I feel the same way.

Thanks. I feel the same way.

As far as your other comment ("It has nothing to do with..."), I don't understand why you've written it but I fully agree that it has nothing to do with such matters. Maybe my accidentally spelling the word "union" with capital U, as "Union," has contributed to misunderstanding. Lower case is preferred (union), and my accidentally capitalizing the first letter may have resulted in confusion. It doesn't matter though. Thank you for your answer.

I'm not entirely sure everybody thinks this way though. Some people who have spent many years in the service believe it's important to follow the Flag Code to the letter and anything else is disrespectful. Even then there are seem to be various interpretations. You can see some of this in the discussion below. These are the people neither you nor I want to offend even by accident and regardless of whose interpretation is right. It's why I asked the question.

Thanks again. It's much appreciated.

"The Flag Code seems to refer

"The Flag Code seems to refer to taking down the flag for the night, unless it's illuminated, only when the flag is flown on a staff."

The "only when the flag is flown at half staff" part of what you assert, which is correct, does not make sense and doesnt belog in the same sentence, for clarification.

"The Code not entirely clear, but the standard interpretation appears to be that when an all-weather flag is placed outside vertically on a wall, window, fence, balcony or door, it can be left for 24 hours even if there is no light at night. Is this correct?"

The code is clear that the use of AMBIENT, existing outdoor lighting that usually is found in those non-staff places, allows for the flag being out when it is dark out. MAinly the flag should be visible from anywhere it can be seen during the day, also at night via SOME kind of lighting.

"The flag is fixed in a vertical position (attached at four points) and not flown on a flagstaff. I'm pretty sure it's all right not to have it illuminated at night, but there is also additional concern that some people would think it's wrong. They might see this as disrespect to the flag when the exact opposite is intended."

No, even in that instance, it should as visible at night, in that hung position, as it is at daytime.

"......."

"Happy Forth!" FOURTH. May the fourth be with you.

Hi, I was wondering if it

Hi, I was wondering if it were acceptable to put an American flag on my bedroom wall?

Hi, Roboat: Most certainly!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Roboat: Most certainly! Regardless of whether you hang it vertically or horizontally, just make sure that the blue field is in the upper left corner. Good for you! And thanks for asking!

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