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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Night time flying of the flag

Shouldn't there be a light to illuminate the flag at night?

Seeing the Light

The Editors's picture

Hi, Estella: Yes, that is correct. Thanks for asking!

How to raise half mast if it can not be lowered

I display a US Flag from my front porch on a pole angled upward at 45 degrees. It can NOT be lowered to half mast. I have heard and seen people use a black ribbon or drape to signify morning on such flags but can not find any references.

Help! What can I do to indicate the flag is at half mast.

Streamered

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: Thanks for caring so much as to ask. An unofficial yet acceptable alternative to flying at half-staff is to fly a black streamer from the tip of the pole (not tip of flag). This should really be a fabric streamer, with black wrapping ribbon used only as a last resort. The streamer needs to be of the same quality and treated with only slightly less respect than the flag. Unofficial rules of thumb are that the streamer should be at least as long as the flag is wide, and as wide as the width of a flag stripe. Thanks again!

Waving small flags

I go with a small group every week to different nursing home's and sing old hymns. At one point in the program we honor our country and sing God Bless America. At this point most of the singers wave a small American flag. Since I joined this group they have been trying to convince me to wave a flag also. I refuse since I feel that it's disrespectful. Am I correct?

Wavy Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bob: This is a wonderful question, and we compliment you on your concern. In reality, waving a properly mounted flag of any size in a respectful and patriotic was is perfectly acceptable. Thanks for asking!

Flying half staffflag

I've read a lot of the comments and I understand how the flag is supposed to be represented with respect and flown. But how do I fly the American flag half staff from the pillar in front of my house hanging at 45 degrees on a single pole?

Another Streamered

The Editors's picture

Hi, Fred: Please see the “Streamered” response above, and thanks for caring!

I thought flying the stick

I thought flying the stick horizontally in these cases was acceptable or is that dipping?

How To Display the US flag.

I had a question as to how the flag would hung while a person is talking to a group of people. I figured the flag should be to the person's left and what ever kind of flag to the right? Is this correct?

Not Right on Left

The Editors's picture

Hi, William: No, when facing a group, the flag should be to the speaker’s right. Thanks for asking!

Disposal of old US Flags

Over the years we have purchased several inexpensive flags from Home Depot. They are worn out and should be "retired." How do we dispose of them? They are some sort of synthetic material and would not burn easily. What do we do?

Feel the Burn

The Editors's picture

Hi, Fran: This is one of the SUPER best questions we have ever had! Thank you! The underlying concept is that our flag should always be retired with respect and dignity. Burning is the the preferred method. A veterans organization will often be happy to help you with this or do it for you. BUT, as you say, what if the flag won’t burn, or burn well? For starters, trying to burn a synthetic material is going to result not only in an incomplete (e.g., melted) result, but also in noxious fumes both for you and the environment. What to do? Recycle the flag. In a very dignified manner, cut it into quarters. First, cut it in half vertically (that is, on its short dimension), being very careful not to cut into the blue Union. Then, cut those halves in half. But don’t just hold it up and start snipping. Ask people (especially children) to help. Measure carefully and lightly mark. Make clean, straight cuts. You now have parts to a flag, not a flag, which still must be treated carefully and respectfully, but then can be recycled as fabric pieces. Thanks again!

a question on displaying the flag ...

i have a question on correct display but, FIRST of all i would like to say something else. Here it is: i LOVE our flag and i LOVE our country. In spite of all the detractors, confusions of the "times", differing opinions of MANY kinds, etc. .... America is just as great as ever !!! It is an honor and a privilege to be both born and raised here. Just as it is an honor and privilege to fly our beloved "Old Glory". My question is .... recently i had a need to interact with some "everyday hero" EMT/ first respond-er folks and i noticed the flag insignia they were all wearing as part of their official garb .... as a "patch" on their right sleeves .... featured the union to the right when looking at it. i asked one of them why and he told me to signify they were moving forward to aide and serve .... does that sound right ? i'm pretty sure that's how he explained it to me, altho my memory is "not what it used to be". Thank-you in advance. A big thank-you to The Old Farmer's Almanac for posting this guide to proper flag etiquette, also. i am happy to say there was only one i don't remember ever knowing. Again, a sincere THANKS and God Bless our country and our FLAG !!!

Flyin' Backward

The Editors's picture

Hi, Proud Patriot Deb: Your first responder friend was correct. The “reverse side flag” on a right shoulder is indeed meant to show forward motion to serve and protect us. From a highly technical standpoint, this is meant to apply to armed forces only, but civilian agencies have adopted the practice and we certainly are not going to quibble over it. Thanks to you, and thanks to all of them!

Flying the flag when you are away

A neighbor recently mentioned that another neighbor ,who is a winter visitor to the area, had left and the flag was still up? She stated this was illegal?? It has a light on it at night. The State is Arizona?

Flag Staff, Arizona

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kathy: Thank you for caring so much about this. As long as the flag is an all-weather type that is durable enough to be outside during any inclement weather, it sounds to us like your neighbor has actually done something perfectly legal to honor our flag. As long as that light is shining at night, they’re all set. Thanks again!

Tea stained flag

We bought tea stained bunting to hang at our home from memorial day to 4th of July. Is it ok to buy a tea stained flag to display as well or should we buy one that isn't tea stained?!

Tea Time–Not

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sheila: Wow, it is really heartening to know that there are folks out there like you who care so much. Our flag is red, white, and blue. It should be kept red, white, and blue, with no tea stains, tea stain patterns, or anything else to sully the purity of its solemn duty to represent the United States and freedom. Spread the word, and thanks!

OK to spread large flags on floor for inspecting condition?

I have inherited several large, older American flags with less than 50 stars. The largest measures 15 feet by 8 feet. Would it be OK to temporarily spread them out, indoors, over protective plastic on the floor to allow for the inspection of their condition? They would not be visible to the public and any individuals would be notified before being allowed to view the condition of the flags in case they were to find it offensive.

Floored

The Editors's picture

Hi, Todd: This is perfectly OK in circumstances such as these, and it sounds to us like you have a very well thought out plan––congratulations. One caution: We understand that this may be a situation where folks might even be wearing curator’s gloves, but please beware of people stepping on the flags. However, with flags of this size, we understand that there might be a need to crawl on them. In that case, footwear should be removed. If that is not possible, then protective booties should be used. Good luck, and thanks for asking!

Two flags (State and US) which hangs left? Which right?

Hi! We are hanging two flags (US and State) on either side of our front porch steps. Can you advise if there is a protocol as to which flag should hang on the left and which on the right? Thanks so much for your expertise. d.

Hang 'em High

The Editors's picture

Hi, Darby: As you face the house, the U.S. flag should be on your left. Thanks for asking and caring so much!

Vertical flag from firetruck boom over parade street

What is the proper position for the Union? The flag was hung vertically from a fire truck boom over the center of the street for the parade to pass under at the beginning of the parade route into downtown. The street is East-West bound, so North would be the normal direction for the Union. Yet, for the second year in a row, the Union was to the South. What am I missing about this? Is it a left/right issue rather than a North or East issue?

North, south, left, right

The Editors's picture

Hi, Richard: This is a great question! Flying the flag has nothing to do with north and south or east and west, as we suspect you recognize. In this case, the union would be on the marchers’ right as they passed under it. Think of the street as a stage, and the parade is coming out from behind the curtain. So, even though “North would NOT be the normal direction for the Union” (since north-south doesn’t matter), you are accidentally right in thinking that south is wrong.

Of course, the above holds true only if the boom is truly horizontal and the flag is truly vertical. If the flag is being “flown” at any angle other than vertical, then the union would need to be higher than the rest of the flag. In this case (think of a fire truck ladder as being a flag staff), where the union was in relation to the marchers would depend on which side of the street the fire truck was on. Whew! Thanks for asking!

Piece of the flag

A family member of mine recently received a piece of the flag sealed in plastic with a piece of paper saying
"I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA.I can no longer fly. The sun and wind caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are never forgotten."
I love the idea but is this permissible?

Watchdog

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: Wow! What a watchdog patriot you are! No! This is improper. Worn-out U.S. flags should be respectfully and carefully burned, with a proper ceremony if possible. A local veterans group is usually honored to help. Thanks for asking!

How to display flags on a motorcycle

Hello I just want to make sure that I display the flags right. I saw that with 3 flags, you put the American flag in the middle. But I want to make sure I display my other two flags correctly. I have a confederate flag which I think should go on the marching right and then the Marine flag on the left. Is this right?

Bike Order

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tim: Great question, thanks for asking. No, this is not correct. The order of precedence for these flags is US, USMC (because it is a U.S. armed service), CSA. So, with the US flag higher and in the center, the next place of honor is to its marching right, or on the far right as you look at the back of the bike. If your middle flag is not going to be higher, then left to right order when viewed from the back of the bike would be CSA, USMC, US (on rider’s far right). Thanks for caring!

A Color Run

I run with a flag during races. I am doing a color run soon, (a color run is a race you run with people thgrowing colored flower at you) Would it be ok to run with it then with it at risk of getting coloring on it. (does wash out)

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