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, 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.

I would like to fly a flag on

I would like to fly a flag on my property on the appropriate days. However, there is no good place on the front of my house to mount a bracket.

I do have two tall cedar trees in front of the house. One of them displays my house number.

Would it be proper to mount a pole bracket to a cedar tree about 9' up?

Or would it be better to simply hang the flag out of the third floor windows?

Nine feet high? Well, try

Nine feet high? Well, try lighting it for night, or have a 6' ladder handy each time you wnat to take it down at night. A tree is a fine "pole", but setting a pulley and halyard to it, that would be odd.

DONT (out of a respect for nature) mount the flag mount to the tree directly with nails - instead use two clear tree straps (used in commerciaand residential tree lighting systems, very inexeposnive), one at the top of the mount, one below, and make it taught! Check the taughtness once per year, so as not to bind the tree growth.

The honor guard folded the

The honor guard folded the flag that was over my husband's casket. When they were finished, they presented the flag to me. I placed the flag in a wooden flag shadow box under covered glass. What I did not know was that there is a small amount of red showing in the display case.

When my family members who served in the military come to my house, they salute my husband's flag because of the red that is showing.

Should I take the shadow box somewhere to have my husband's flag re-folded?

I've been told it is disrespectful to have any red showing. I've also been told that the red signifies the blood of our servicemen and women. I don't know what to do.

Thank you for your advice.

My son's father died and his

My son's father died and his funeral was today. It was pouring and the folded flag is soaking wet. My son is carrying the flag with him everywhere but we are concerned it won't dry. I know it can't be unfolded. Are there any suggestions on how to dry it so we can put it a case for display? Any suggestions would be great. Thank you :)

Hi, Jessi: We are so sorry to

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jessi: We are so sorry to hear of your loss. Although it may be a little late in this particular case, please note that in every single consideration given to Old Glory under any circumstances, the paramount concern is respect and care. So you certainly should feel free to unfold the flag to dry it and even clean it if you see fit, and then refold it -- provided, obviously, that you treat it reverently at all times. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

What in gods name is wrong

What in gods name is wrong with America.The Maryland School district wants to take our national Holidays off the calendar.They want to do it because they don't want to offend Muslims.Tell them to go the Hell back home if they can't conform to Americas customs.It's supposed to be GOD BLESS AMERICA.

I love this country, which I

I love this country, which I have made my home. I have lived in the United States for over twenty years. I come to you with a request for assistance / clarity. I fly a French flag (as an expression of my heritage) on an angled flag pole on my side of a multi-unit condo. My neighbors proudly fly the American flag. My flag is to the right of theirs as observed from the street, and flies at the same height. The American flag is larger than mine (don't know if that's relevant). This past week, someone decided to take my flag and pole down... I found them on the ground. I cleaned it and put it back up. Today I came back to the flag and pole placed on my porch. I find this really disrespectful, unneighborly, and most of all: cowardly. I don't see a reason why I wouldn't be free to fly my flag. I love America and want to be sensitive and respectful, and thought I was... Am I mistaken in putting my flag back up? Thanks so much, I hope that your expertise will allow me to do the right thing here.

Dear Michigan Resident, If

Dear Michigan Resident,
If you have read the flag etiquette on this site, you will see that when displaying the American flag along with other flags, it is to take preeminence. It is not the size of the flag that matters, but its position in that display.
Even though YOU were not displaying another flag along with an American flag, my guess is whoever removed your flag viewed it as some sort of challenge. Those of us who went to school in the 20th century were taught that American flag represents our entire nation. Many Americans take this seriously and view any disrespect to the Flag as a slap in the face to the American people. Others see our constitutionally-protected right of free speech as preeminent over the Flag itself.
I am sorry that whoever saw fit to remove your flag did not have the courage to speak to you about it, but felt free to violate your personal property instead. (You assume it was your American-flag-flying neighbor, but you can't be sure since they did not identify themselves.) Ideally, you should be able to talk to your neighbors about what happened, but not knowing their character, I hesitate to advise you. I hate the thought of you being intimidated into curtailing your right to display a part of your heritage. That is not the American way at all.

Dear Melsled, Thanks for your

Dear Melsled,
Thanks for your reply.
I'd like to clarify a few points that may not have been evident from my previous post. First, I did my 'due diligence' when raising my flag for the third time. I took the phrase from above (No other flag should be placed above the flag of the United States or, if on the same level, to its right) to mean that I was technically in the clear. Secondly, I really don't believe my American-flag-flying neighbors took it down (we are pretty close). I hope this helps...
I am more concerned with common sense and etiquette than technicality. If, however; my flag were to in some way violate the flag code, I would take it down. I believe in the constitutional right to free speech. I also hold a personal belief that free speech ends when it harms others. I don't want to cause anyone distress while expressing myself.
Interestingly enough, I feel more free to fly my flag in the United States than in France (rare are those countries that exhibit their nation's flag at home...). I was reveling in that privilege until this incident made me rethink the entire act.
I believe I will continue to fly it, unless someone identifies themself and tells me how they feel...
Thanks again for your response!

To say that size of the flags

To say that size of the flags is of no improt is incorrect. The main point is that the US flag should be most prominent, and that would be in forward placement, height, size, centered, or to the viewer's left. However, since YOU are flying your own single flag, ther is no placement relevance in this case. Your flag, being alone on your proerty, has no relevance to a US flag flown on someone else's property. They are wrong for tresspassing on your prerty for any reason, without your consent. They should be fine with the size of their larger, US flag in this case and should not be worrying about your single flag, at all.

That said, why NOT fly your own US flag, withj the French flag, and in the proper manner? THat mighjt quell your neighbors' concerns.

I wish somebody would STOP

I wish somebody would STOP the U S ARMY's DISRESPECTFUL wearing of MY FLAG on their right shoulder!!! (with Union on RIGHT)
The "lie" they tell is that it is okay because it "symbolizes" Forward Into Battle.

As per several websites on

As per several websites on this matter:

"The blue field of stars should always be in the highest position of honor. When viewing the flag on a wall, the highest position of honor is the upper left when displayed horizontally, and at the top (upper left) when displayed vertically. When displayed on a "moving object" like a person or vehicle, the highest position of honor is the front, and not the rear; so the field of blue should be displayed to the front.

The same principle applies to the eagle rank of Colonels (or Navy Captains); the eagles' heads are always worn facing forward when worn on the uniform, as the forward-facing eagle is the position of honor within heraldry.

In application, then, flags are displayed on moving vehicles with the blue-star field always displayed towards the front of the vehicle. In this way, the flag appears to be blowing in the wind as the vehicle travels forward (flags are always attached to their flag poles on the blue field side). If the flag were not reversed on the right hand side of the vehicle, the vehicle might appear to be moving backwards (or "retreating").

The next time you visit an airport, notice that the US-flagged aircraft also have a "reverse" flag painted on the right side of the aircraft.

For flag patches worn on uniforms, the same principle applies: the blue star field always faces towards the front, with the red and white stripes behind. Think of the flag, not as a patch, but as a loose flag attached to the Soldier's arm like a flag pole. As the Soldier moves forward, the red and white stripes will flow to the back.

As the proponent for standardization and authorization of heraldry items within the Department of Defense, the Institute of Heraldry addresses the apparent oddity of the reverse flag patch by stating, "When worn on the right sleeve, it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the union is at the observer's right to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward."

A soldier is moving object, my friend.

There is a car dealership

There is a car dealership close to me here in Houston, TX. They have several American and Mexico flags at the same height alternating US/Mexico/US/etc. Is this reportable, and who do I contact?

Hi, Chris: Thank you for

The Editors's picture

Hi, Chris: Thank you for spotting this. The Flag Code is entirely voluntary, so there is no real enforcement. From a technical standpoint, it is OK for a foreign flag to fly at the same height as the U.S. flag, as long as the U.S. flag is to the right as it is being presented. In other words, if you are standing on the road looking at the dealership, the U.S. flag should be on the left. Of course, if the U.S. flag is on the end, this works only for the first pair. The next U.S. flag becomes out of compliance because the first Mexican flag would be to the right of it as presented. A good compromise might be to lower all of the Mexican flags slightly, like one flag's width. We would craft a short and very cordial letter asking that the dealership "please consider" changing this, have 10 or so others sign it, and bring it to the Sales Manager. Good luck!

Is it always improper to wear

Is it always improper to wear a hat in a room where the flag of The United States of America is displayed?

Hi, Mark: Of course, there is

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mark: Of course, there is the large school of traditional etiquette thought that says that wearing any hat under any circumstances indoors is improper. That being said, if a hat is to be worn, it is OK to wear it indoors in the presence of the U.S. flag. The exception to this occurs when the flag is displayed as part of a procession, such as being brought down an aisle, in which case the hat is doffed when the flag passes by. Thanks for asking! (And just for the record: We don't wear our hat indoors.)

Board Members in an Home

Board Members in an Home Owners Assoc (55+) have directed management to lower the flag to half staff(entrance to the property, outdoors) whenever a resident may pass away. (For some, not all). This seems to diminish the honor for when it is ordered by the government. Shoud they stop this practice?

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