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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verticall hung flags

In the past as one entered a room a flag hung vertically had the blue to the right.Today this is reversed.Why is that?

Reversed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Peter: This is no doubt because someone correctly pointed out that having the blue “union” to the right is wrong. Thanks for asking!

American flag protocol

We have a 5x8 American flag that we are wanting to fly, so I can be sure of the protocol I have a few questions I didn’t see on this website. So is a 30-35 foot pole the correct height for this size of flag? I’ve been told that the Texas flag can fly at the same height on a separate pole true or false? Is there a particular distance/ space between two of the same size flags? I have power wires running across the curb of my property are there guidelines for distance or display due to obstacles? Are there protocols for lighting a poled flag ( brightness, distance, angle, etc.)? Any other protocol is welcomed and thank you, God bless you and our country.

Lone Star Star

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gregory: Thanks for these great questions and God bless you and the great state of Texas as well. A 5x8 Old Glory would usually fly on a pole of about 30 feet. Yes, the Texas flag can fly at the same height on a separate pole as long as it is to the right of Old Glory when viewed from the most prominent viewing perspective, although flying it from a slightly shorter pole in any orientation would also work. The general rule of thumb for spacing is that it should be greater than the sum of the two flag lengths (known as their “flys”). So for two 8-footers, you would want at least 17 feet or so. No, there are no guidelines regarding obstacles other than what safety concerns dictate. And finally, Old Glory’s lighting should be such that she is totally lit in a full breeze—how that is accomplished is up to you! Thanks again!

Displaying American flag on same halyard as another flag.

Hello,
My neighbor flies his American flag and some sports team flag on the same halyard. What is the protocol for displaying at half-mast? Should he simply lower both flags, or should the sports team flag be removed when at half staff?
Thanks for being here for us!

Be a Good Sport

The Editors's picture

Hi, Don: You’re welcome! If there’s room, he could lower both at once—that’s OK. Thanks for asking!

lowering the Flag

It seems that the lowering of the American Flag is becoming more politicized than patriotic. Many Leaders, presidents, governors seem to order the lowering for purpose of looking sympathetic and it's getting too loose. Can you put out the word what the intent is and I understand they do have the authority.

Politics vs. Patriots

The Editors's picture

Hi, Eagle: Not really sure what you’re asking, but Old Glory really can be ordered to half-staff by the president, governors, and in some cases Congress, by custom. As you suggest, other occasions/bodies have also gotten involved at times, with their own lowerings. While half-staffs may not always be officially correct, we always point out the importance of remembering that it’s the thought that counts. Thanks for asking!

Flag face covering

A friend at work was wearing a flag as a covid-19 face covering. When I said he was disrespecting the flag, he said it didn’t have 50 stars so it didn’t count. I don’t believe that.

Covered

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jerry: As long as a mask is not an actual flag that you could fly, this is OK. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

displaying of small flags

my homeowners assoc puts small 2x4 flags on sticks alongside the roadways at the entrance to the community. The flags are left on display in the rain and all night long without having a light from below. They also touch the ground.

What are the rules?

Rain on Their Parade

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeffrey: This is really not OK by any rules, but thanks for asking!

Flying Old Glory upside down

What can we do about a neighbor that flies their flag upside down 24/7 for the last three years. We and other neighbors have all asked politely “Why is it upside down?”. And they have been expressing that this is their right to do this. Our requests to fly her upright have been ignored and met with argumentative responses. Please if you can, do we have any recourses?

Upside Down Argument

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mitch: As you no doubt know, flying Old Glory upside down is a symbol of distress and a signal for help (such as when seen on a ship at sea). Obviously, if this has been going on for three years, it is not that. The short answer is that you have no real legal recourse. The long answer is that sometimes in cases like this of total disrespect for Old Glory, it helps to remember and pay silent tribute to our millions of service members across the centuries who have fought and died or been wounded just so that we have the individual Freedom of Speech to be able to disrespect our flag. Thus in some respects an upside down Old Glory is not an insult to our country and its freedoms, but a tribute to them. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

When you are unable to follow fly order timelines ...

As a business for example we will not be open and on the properties Memorial Day. The flag is to be flown at half staff until noon and than raised. Should we take the flag down since we can't follow that timeline? Similarly … when half staff orders are such that they expire over a weekend … we typically have taken the flag down rather than be in violation of those flying orders. What should we do to be in compliance and respectful?

Flagged Business

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rod: From a technical standpoint, it is better to take down Old Glory in such cases. However, your question really is, Which is more respectful, flying incorrectly or not flying at all? To this we always respond that Old Glory being flown is always better than Old Glory not being flown, regardless of the circumstances. Thanks for asking!

American FLAG

Is it ok to use flag like materials to make things like the masks so many are wearing?
Thank you

Masked Intention

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lee: As long as they are not actual flags, this is considered “flag art” and is  OK. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Avenue of Flags

Can the American flags be left out over a holiday weekend or just from dusk til dawn and why?

Thank you for your time.

No Holiday for Respect

The Editors's picture

Hi, Annette: The suggested rules to Old Glory apply to holidays as well as “regular” days, so if she is left out all night or in inclement weather, she needs to be lit or an all-weather flag, respectively. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

No Holiday for Holidays

The Editors's picture

Hi, Annette: Regardless of whether it’s a holiday, Old Glory should be left out overnight only if lit. Thanks for asking!

Can a US flag be buried with a veteran at his request?

I belong to the Civil Air Patrol and tonight’s subject was flag etiquette. The above question arose and we could not come up with proper answer.

CAP Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ivan: It’s always great to hear from the CAP. Thanks for the all the great work you do! And the answer to your question is … Most certainly! Thanks for asking!

Proper positioning of flag

My neighbor told me that my flag pole and flag should be on the left side of my house. I want to put pole in the back yard on the right side of my house but will be visible from the road. Your advices please. Thank you.

Backyard Bonus

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jolyn: If your flagpole is in the backyard, it can be anywhere you want. It doesn’t matter what the view is from the road. Thanks for asking!

US Flag and POW Flag on same pole

what is the protocol for displaying the US Flag and another flag, (POW) on the same pole?
this is mostly about size of flag. do you display the two flags at the same size, or should the lower flag be of a size smaller? ex: US 8X12 POW 5X8 ?

Sizable Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ed: From a highly technical standpoint, the flags can be any size as long as Old Glory is on top, but as a practical matter and by custom, a lower flag should be no larger than the same size as Old Glory and preferably smaller. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flags hanging from utility poles

My village improvement group would like to display USA flags and Maine flags, suspended on several utility poles along a short roadside drive in our village, one flag on each pole, during this summer. If so, they would remain displayed day and night. Do THESE flags need to be illuminated at night ?

Shedding Light on the Subject

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lyn: Yes, technically they would need to be lit, although by custom this is often done. It’s the thought that counts, and we wouldn’t tell. Thanks for asking!

American Flag & Political Flag on same pole

Can a “political” flag be hung below an American Flag on the same pole?

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