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

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)

Color Us No

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ryan: Thanks for asking! But sorry–intentionally soiling the flag with anything for any reason is a big-time no-no. But good for you for thinking about it!

Cleaning a soiled flag

I recently started a new job in an electrical shop. A flag is hung from a high railing and has been there for a while. There is a lot of dust in the shop and the flag is covered by it. Is there any rule of flag etiquette that explicitly prohibits machine laundering an American flag?

A Clean Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: It is perfectly OK to machine launder a flag, as long as it is treated respectfully going into and coming out of the washer (and dryer, if need be). Great, great question–thanks!

Wooden Flag

Is it ok to make a replica flag from wood? If following the proper design. When on display does it have to follow the same rules, like being lit when mounted outside?

It Wood Be OK

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brian: It would be fine to make a replica flag from wood, and yes, you would want to try to follow the guidelines for fabric flags, if possible. Thank you for caring so much. It would be great if more people realized, like you, that the image of the flag–not just the flag itself–also needs to be treated with respect. Good for you!

Displaying flag with disrespect or not

I have a neighbor that has a flag displayed that's attached to their house, but they never take it down. I always thought that it's supposed to be taken down at sundown unless you shine a light on it. That's what I've read also, but is there something else I'm missing that says there's an exception to this rule? Also, it's stuck in their gutter and has been about a month after displaying it (when Obama was elected, so it's been years). When they had their gutters cleaned out this summer, the guy pulled it out and it's filthy and looks torn. But now it's back in the gutter again. I feel this is complete disrespect for our flag and I don't know how to politely tell them this. They recently put out a green light to show their support of our armed forces, but then they fly their flag like this. It's so frustrating looking out at that every day.....how do you tell them they're doing it wrong?

Get Some Help

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alicia: Wow, what a patriot you are! (And you are correct about nighttime lighting.) We have found that cases like this can often be solved with the help of a patriotic or veterans organization such as the American Legion or VFW (or any other civic-minded organization that does public service). You quietly–repeat, quietly–go to a member and explain the challenge. The organization then procures a replacement flag and sends it with a small delegation to the neighbor’s house. They say to the neighbor, “You know, we see that you support our armed forces with the green light, and also that you have flown your flag so much in support of our country that it looks a little the worse for wear. We would be very honored if you would let us replace it for you.” Good luck, and thanks again for caring!

an all weather flag question?e

Does an all weather flag have to be lit at night?

Lit Bit

The Editors's picture

Hi, K: Yes. Over and out!

outdoor flag display

Is it appropriate to attach a flagpole w/flag to a tree., have been flying 24/7 since 911 and was attached to eves of house unfortunately the high winds have dislodged it 4 different times so I thought maybe the tree would be a lot more stable
Thx

Treed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rex: A tree is fine. Thank you for being so patriotic and caring enough to ask this question!

Reply to Tom Maxwell's question about the display of our Flag

I am again asking my question............In Cuba, the Cuba Flag was flown to the left side, first position and the American Flag in second position facing the Present is this correct ???????????

Cuba, si; Old Glory, si

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joseph and Tom: Thank you for this excellent question and for spotting this anomaly. When the U.S. flag is flown in a foreign country, the rules of the country for their own flag take precedence. As you can imagine, sometimes this can get a little dicey with regard to where the U.S. flag ends up, so the positioning of flags for official events is gone over in great detail by diplomatic staff. Sometimes the host rules are flexible enough that our rules can be followed; sometimes they are not. Thanks again!

Reply to Tom Maxwell's question about the display of our Flag

Was this question answered about the position of our Flag in Cuba ???
Tom Maxwell 3/22/16 @ 1:22 PM ?????????

US FLAF FLOWN WITH FOREIGN FLAG IN FOREIGN COUNTRY

I noticed that the US flag was not on its own right when it was displayed behind President Obama while speaking in Cuba. What is the proper way to display our US flag in a foreign country?

Foreign flag decorum

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: Please see above, and thanks for asking!

Proper handling of flag

Is it proper to have a wind vane above the flag on the same pole?

A question in vane

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeffrey: Great question! Answer: No, not really. The only thing considered proper to sit above the flag is the cap on the pole (such as a ball or discreetly sized eagle), which is interpreted as being necessary to protect the integrity of the pole, which in turn is interpreted as necessary to protect the integrity of the flag. Thanks for asking!

Displaying a flag in a case

I just want to check on the acceptability of placing a flag, properly folded and in a display case on a wall. Have never seen that before and want to make sure it complies with proper flag etiquette. Have always seen the display case on a mantle, table of placed on something, never mounted on a wall. A hanging flag is to have the star field to the upper left. Does that rule apply in this case?

Go for it

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gerry: It is perfectly OK to mount a flag case on a wall, provided that it is located in a position worthy of respect, as for an unfolded flag. We are unsure about your question regarding the positioning of the union (“star field”), as a properly folded flag will show only the union and no red or white. Incidentally, a properly mounted flag case will have its long side on the bottom so that it looks like a mountain. Thanks for asking!

flag in the rain

I am the person responsible for flying the flag at a small high school in Sacramento. The principal at the school is quite patriotic and says that he wants the flag flown every day, including rainy days. Above I read what I believed to be true; that the flag should not be flown in inclement weather. He says however, that the material is weather proof and it can be flown anytime. I feel that the flag just looks wrong soaking up against the pole and it is not easy or dignified taking it down all wet. To make matters worse, in order for it to dry afterwards (it must be taken down daily), it would have to be spread out and draped over something in what I perceive also an undignified manner.
What are the thoughts on this?

Principally Correct

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mr. Stedman: This is a great, caring question–thank you for asking! Your principal is correct: It is OK to fly the U.S. flag in inclement weather if the flag is rugged and weatherproof. The question then becomes, Is it best to fly the flag in inclement weather? Your drying concerns are legitimate; the solution might be hanging, as on an indoor clothesline of some sort, rather than draping. Your concerns about aesthetics are also well taken. Our thoughts? We would let the all-weather flag fly in showers or sprinkles but take it down in pouring or sustained rain, even though we didn’t have to. And BTW: It is not wrong NOT to fly the flag in any situation you think might diminish the respect in which it should be held. Thanks again!

House Display

I just obtained a new American flag, pole and adjustable wall mounting bracket. The best location I can find along the front of my house is a front porch column. The porch cover is small and just covers the front door area located roughly in the middle of the house. Due to existing trees in the front yard and roof overhangs, the best and most visible location would be on the left side of the left column. This location would provide a clear and unobstructed view of the flag when viewing from the street, and it would be able to fly freely without touching roof overhangs or tree branches. I would propose to mount it such that the pole would extend out from the column at approximately 45 degrees. This orientation would point the flag to the north, and it would keep the Union stars at the top, but when viewed from the street, looking at the house and flag, the flag would appear with the Union in the upper right portion of the flag. I cannot mount it on the right column, pointing to the right (south) because of low tree branches; and due to the long extending roof overhang along the front of the house, any mount to the house face would be much too low. Before installing the pole bracket, I want to be sure my proposed location and orientation is acceptable. Your guidance will be most appreciated. Thank you.

Coping with Columns

The Editors's picture

Hi, RB: As long as it is only the U.S. flag we are talking about (not along with others) and the flag is mounted properly on the staff (Union at top against staff), you may mount the staff anywhere that allows for unimpeded flying. Thanks for the great detail, and thank you so much for caring so much!

Variety of flags

My church is wanting to hang small national flags (3"x5") from wooden plaques to represent the numerous countries represented through the missionaries we support. What is the proper side to mount these on, the right or left side of each plaque? Does this vary depending on the type of flag (some are state flags, some American flags, but most national flags from other countries) Also does it matter if they are mounted straight or at an angle?

Half staff

When flying the flag at half staff is the flag suppose to remain up continuously? Or is it lowered then raised each day?

Half-Staff, Full Treatment

The Editors's picture

Hi, Robert: No, the rules for flying a flag at half-staff are the same as for flying it at full-staff, which means that it needs to be raised and lowered each morning/night if not lit throughout the night. And for a half-staff flag, please remember that the proper way to raise it is to raise it all the way, then lower it to half-staff. The reverse is true for lowering it: Raise all the way up, then lower all the way down. Thanks for asking!

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