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

Hi, Jackline: Regardless of

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jackline: Regardless of why a U.S. flag is at half-staff (death or otherwise), it does not need to fly separately from other flags. That being said, a lot depends on looks when other flags are below it. If the flagpole is short and the lower flags would seem unnaturally close to the ground (although if they are proportional to the pole, this shouldn't happen), then sometimes it is best to just remove one or more of the lower flags and temporarily fly the U.S. flag at half-staff alone. It is not disrespectful to the other flags to temporarily remove them, as the U.S. flag (and, conceptually, "what the U.S. flag wants to do") supersedes them anyway. Thanks for asking!

I am part of a law

I am part of a law enforcement honor guard. Recently at a change of command ceremony we were asked to post the colors for the event. I argued with the organizers of the event that honorees chairs should not be placed in a position whereas the colors in procession march behind the honorees' group. I felt that it is disrespectful to place those chairs in a more prominent position than the US colors. This caused the group to essentially have their backs to the honor guard carrying the US flag at the beginning of the ceremony. Please advise as to the proper etiquette for this type of situation.

Hi, Jose: This is an

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jose: This is an excellent -- and complicated -- question to answer. Thank you for caring so much to ask. Without knowing your exact setup this is difficult to respond to, but in general terms, you are correct: The colors should not be presented to the backs of people. However, there are many instances when this happens because of practical considerations, such as when colors are brought in from the back of a hall up the aisle or when because of physical constraints of the stage they are brought in behind a row of people on the stage rather than in front of them. The most important things are that the colors be treated with respect and placed properly for the ceremony itself. Thanks again!

We purchased a home and we

We purchased a home and we have a flag pole with the American flag flying. It has recently sustained a noticeable tear. I know we need to take the flag down, but what do we do with the torn flag? Also, is it disrespectful to have a flag pole but not fly a flag? Not that we do not want to, I am just thinking of the mean time of taking the current torn one down, if it is disrespectful to have no flag flying until we can replace it. Thank you for your help!

Contact the VFW or American

Contact the VFW or American Legion. They should take the damage flag.

There is nothing in the flag

There is nothing in the flag code about not flaying any flag on a pole or leaving a flag pole empty.

I have a few questions. My

I have a few questions. My g/f is St. Lucian and we want to fly both flags on our house on either side of our garage on a fixed flag pole. If facing the house/garage from the stree, which side should which flag be? Also, do we need to have lights in our yard aimed at the flag as to keep it lit up at night or do we have to take down the flag every night? (this is one of those flags that's on a stick that you insert into a fixed flag holder that you drill onto the side of your house). Thanks!

For your questions, you might

The Editors's picture

For your questions, you might check the actual U.S. code: See Title 4, Chapter 1, sections 6 and 7:
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/U...
Based on this, it appears that for a residence in the United States, the U.S. and St. Lucian flags should be flown on different staffs, be of the same size and height, and the U.S. flag should be on the left as you are facing the garage (which would be on the U.S. flag's own right).
As for what to do after sunset, the code says, "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." So, it appears that you can either take the flags down each day at sunset, or install lights to illuminate them over night.
Please note, too, that if you have an all-weather flag, it is OK to keep it out in inclement weather. Otherwise, you should take it in during precipitation.
Perhaps the following might also help:
http://www.united-states-flag....
http://www.senate.gov/referenc...

Sorry it took so long to

Sorry it took so long to respond, I lost the page that I asked this on! o.O Thank you, all that was really helpfull :) Have a great day

Hello I have two questions.

Hello I have two questions. It's early but, I was wondering am I able to fly the original 13 Stars Old Glory for the 4th of July Celebration? Any my second question is I have a telescoping flag post that was installed. I have no idea how to fly the flag half mass. Am I still able to fly the flag or do I need to take it down. The flag is always at the top no matter how high or low I put the sections on the pole.

NO, just as long as the union

NO, just as long as the union field is in the same orientation as with the 50 (FIFTY) States version.

Just think twice before hanging a Confederate Flag on that day.

Is it OK to paint the

Is it OK to paint the representation of the American Flag on a building (Barn Face)

I could not find direct

The Editors's picture

I could not find direct mention of this usage in the Flag Code. There might be state or local laws concerning this, however. You might check at your town office. If this building is a private residential building, for non-commercial/non-advertising purposes, it might be OK, as long as the painted image is done respectfully, and, if painted horizontally, the union (blue section) is on the top left as you look at the image. Also, no other words, designs, or items should be painted or placed over the flag image.
The code says that the U.S. flag should not be used as advertising or as a "receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything," nor should it be printed/painted on temporary articles that will be discarded (such as napkins), or on wearing apparel (with a few exceptions).
For more information, you might be interested in:
http://www.senate.gov/referenc...

Recently my grandmother

Recently my grandmother passed down to me my grandfathers flag in its flag case from his memorial service 8 years ago. Would it be disrespectful to take the flag out of the case and hang it up on the wall in my music studio as a memorial to him? Just want to do the right thing. Thanks

Hi, Buck: It would be

The Editors's picture

Hi, Buck: It would be perfectly OK to do this. In general, the more prominently you can display the flag with the proper amount of respect, the better. Thanks for asking!

My husband and I bought a

My husband and I bought a double wide in a 55 and over mobile park in Florida, 5 years ago
Each year I buy a new American and Canadian flag to fly... one on each side, in flag pole holders attached to my house. My Lanai entrance faces the street where I put the American and the Canadian flies at the car port. same height. Is this OK?

Hi, Heather: It is OK to fly

The Editors's picture

Hi, Heather: It is OK to fly them at the same height, provided that the U.S. flag is on the left when viewed from the street or when viewed from the side of the building from which they are flown. And thanks for being so respectful as to get new ones each year--you do both countries proud!

Hi, my question is: is it ok

Hi, my question is: is it ok or disrespectful to drape a flag over an empty small casket to represent the fallen soldiers for a parade that honors veterans and fallen soldiers? Just wanting to do the right thing.

Hi, Brent: This is a great

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brent: This is a great question--thanks for asking! What you suggest is technically not proper. The solution would be to fly a small flag (such as the type on a dowel that you wave) vertically at the head of the little casket (even attach the rod to the short top side/end of the box if you want).

My father recently passed

My father recently passed away and I was presented with his flag, I have purchased
a case. I have his military picture and a rosary would it be proper to display this in the case with the flag? And is it o.k. to have his name and the branch etched on the glass of the flag case? Thank you.

Hi, Maxine: Putting things

The Editors's picture

Hi, Maxine: Putting things inside a flag case with the flag is sort of a gray area. As long as the flag remains the primary focus of respect, all is OK, and we have no doubt that you will place your father's photo and rosary in such a manner, so go for it. And yes, it is OK to etch the glass with the info you suggest (but just for the record, it is not OK to etch the glass with just anything). Thanks for asking!

Is it respectful to display

Is it respectful to display an American Flag in a flag case, if no one has passed away?

Hi, Matthue: Yes, it is!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Matthue: Yes, it is!

I would like to display our

I would like to display our American Flag at an indoor event and would like to find out if we could starch the flag so that it stands out from the flag pole (like flying in a breeze). I have looked at many different sites to find out if this could be done or if this would be disrespectful to our country and I haven't found any information on if this is o.k. or not. Again, I would like to honor our country and service men & women by having this flag at our event, but I also want to present it properly.

Thanks for your help.

Hi, Jeffry: This is a tricky

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeffry: This is a tricky question that calls for a somewhat mystical answer, so please bear with us. Is it OK to starch a U.S. flag? Yes. Is it advisable to starch the livin' daylights out  of it for the purpose of having it "fly" flat? Well ... that may be another matter. While it is certainly true that we display our flag in different ways, e.g., from a staff, on a wall, folded in a triangle in a case, and so forth, it might be said that the "purest" form of display -- if that term can even be used -- is on a staff, gently billowing in the breeze (a la Star-Spangled Banner, although that was certainly shot up quite a bit). A clue can be found in the flag guidelines at top, in the phrase "aloft and flying freely" (the key word being "freely"). This is why you sometimes see fans directed at flags. But to starch it  into a boardlike banner, while technically OK, would probably not be ideal. Another thing to consider is that when people viewed such a flag, would their attention be drawn to its beauty and significance, as it always should be? Or to: How on Earth did they get it to fly like that? In any event, you get an A+ for asking this and even thinking about it -- thanks!

What you could do is "banner

What you could do is "banner hang:" the flag, but horizontally - contrary to the usual vertical hang, banner style.
What you would do is hang the flag along it's top with a dowel, thick enough to fit through a sewn pocket (some flags come with thes pockets pre-sewn) - add extra white material for the pcoekt, done merely fold the existing dflag material to make a pocket!
Then hang the dowel from each end of the dowel from nylon, 50 pound test fishline vertially. Then mount a "mast" next to the field side of the flag, to make it "look" as if it were hanging off the mast.
The ambient air movemtn in the room should give it just enough freeness to not be too distracting.
No more distracting than if hung vertically - which , is actully my preference here, as that does not get as much "awe" attention from a guessing crowd. Field to the flag's own right, recall!

I recently sang at the

I recently sang at the funeral of a veteran. Standing behind the casket, which was draped in the American flag, I stood before singing and placed lyrics of the song on the back side where it wasn't visible to the congregation, at the foot of the casket, as there was no podium or any other thing, save the casket, at the front of the funeral parlor. At the burial, I was told by a man " Don't you ever " lay " anything on the American flag again". Just wondering, was this a big deal? I left it there only until I finished singing, then removed it.

Hi, Darrell: Like beauty, the

The Editors's picture

Hi, Darrell: Like beauty, the "bigness" of a "deal" lies in the eyes of the beholder. Your tutor was technically correct, and no doubt his intentions were good, but he could have recognized that yours were, too -- and found a gentler way to impart his knowledge. And, while it is important to follow flag rules, it is often of value (and consolation) to consider possible extenuating circumstances and questions related thereto, such as: Would the departed veteran have minded? So although you did wrong, you also did a lot of right. Thank you for that and for this question.

Hi! My boyfriend is currently

Hi! My boyfriend is currently serving over seas. He is in the Air Force, and told me before they leave they can get flags flown behind the jets for family and friends if they want. I really want one but don't have a flag pole or any place to hang it. Are flag cases specifically for flags for fallen members? What are the guidelines for keeping a flown flag in a case?

Hi, Kelly Marie: Thank you

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kelly Marie: Thank you for this important question and for caring enough to ask it. Flag cases can be used for any properly folded and protected U.S. flag, not just one honoring the fallen. The key thing is to always treat and store the flag reverently and protect it fully, as it has protected you. Incidentally, you do not need to spend a lot of money on a formal flag case, especially if you will not be displaying. Any box that is clean and in good condition is OK -- for example, a jewelry box if it were big enough (do not bend the folded triangle flag) or a wooden case from a cutlery set. But treat the flag and its case with the utmost of care and respect, and you will always be doing the U.S. -- and USAF! -- proud.

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