U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag Flowing
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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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So I am thinking wearing a

So I am thinking wearing a Stars & Stripes scarf is NOT the right thing to do, correct?

Hi, Denise: Correct, that is

The Editors's picture

Hi, Denise: Correct, that is a no-no. Thanks for caring and asking!

Ive also read the flag code

Ive also read the flag code and interpret the rule to be a flag should not be worn. so a scarf should not be made out of an actual flag. A commercially available item of patriotic theme is not against the Flag rules.

Thank you for the flag rules.

Thank you for the flag rules.

I am so tired of seeing young couples, the guy an obvious serviceman, wrapped up with their girlfriend in the American flag and posted on Pinterest. Or baby bumps, draped in the flag. Do they not teach them in the service that this is disrespectful? And then, other people get on and pin it, squealing how they "are SO getting their pic taken like this!" Labeled patriotic photo shoots!

Hi, Patricia: You're welcome,

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patricia: You're welcome, and thank YOU for caring enough to visit them!

If there are two flags on a

If there are two flags on a flag pole and the top flag is an American flag, may the lower flag be larger in size than the American flag?

Hi, Bellman: It should not be

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bellman: It should not be larger. Thanks for flying your flag!

If it is temporary and that

If it is temporary and that is all you can get for now, there is nothing wrong with it. But, making the US flag prominent here is the key point.
One way to do that viasually is to hoist the US flag as high as possible on the staff, then hoist the larger flag so that it is at least one US flag's (yours, specifically) height AWAY from (lower than) the US flag above. Make a large, open space between them on the staff.
Althught you might think that would make the larger flag look even larger, because lowering it would make it closer, that affect doesnt happen. What haoppens is, the LOWER flag becomes "invisible" to the tallest flag. It's a "line of sight" thing of vertical acuity (which is not, but should be, on the DMV Visual Acuity test!)

Hi I am flying my flag it is

Hi I am flying my flag it is mounted on the front of my house on the brick I want to fly my 911 flag it is smaller but facing the house the 911 flag would be to the right both are on poles do I switch places and mount 911 to the left or can I fly stars&stripes to the right facing the bldg. Tks Freddy USMC

Hi, Freddie: Facing a

The Editors's picture

Hi, Freddie: Facing a building, a U.S. flag on a staff should be to the far left. Thanks for asking, and Semper Fi!

I own a club and on certain

I own a club and on certain nights we have an older crowd and they like us to play the national anthem to start the night off and the DJ does this with out a second thought. We had a patron get deployed to Iraq he took our flag with him in 2006 and returned safly in 2008 with our flag and a very nice certificate we proudly bought a nice case and framed the certificate and had lights put in to highlight it in the bar and to protect it. Tonight a man said it was disrespectful to look at that flag while the national anthem played... Any thought on this ??

Hi, PAkid: Verrry interesting

The Editors's picture

Hi, PAkid: Verrry interesting question, more complicated than may appear on the surface. Your patron is wrong -- but he may be right. In fact, it is disrespectful NOT to look at the flag during the national anthem. However, we suspect that this has more to do with the bar than with the flag. Is it OK to look at an encased flag during the anthem, as the main object of respect (vs. an uncased one)? Yes. Is it OK to look at a flag nicely lit and displayed in/at a bar? Yes. However, perhaps a better place for your obviously tasteful display would be on a wall outside the bar, such that Uncle Sam's banner is not juxtaposed to Uncle Jack Daniels' bottle. In any event, it sounds like your club is full of very patriotic folks -- congratulations and thanks to all! Please pass that along for us!

I have seen in some

I have seen in some establishments, and yes even respectfully in bars, where they have a corner of honor, or a wall of honor, done in beautiful and patriotic ways. (Not squeezed in between Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, and not in between the Coors Light sign and a sign that states: We like our women here like women on European beaches... toplessROFL--not!) I had put in my reply NOT outside due to the potential of appearance of marketing. Outside it can appear to be saying, "look how patriotic we are, look what we did, come in because of this!" Sometimes even the appearance of impropriety need be avoided. However, a modest, but appropriate, honor on the inside- imho - simply states, "look at who we are and what we believe!" Just my way of looking at it! :-)

So sad that with anything,

So sad that with anything, especially such a beautiful and patriotic stormy as yours, that there will ALWAYS be a grumbled and a naysayers. I would say as long as the story is true (hate to go here, but is it notarized, or verified in some way other than talk certificate printed my the enlisted man?), and that it is displayed inside, as a tribute; as opposed to outside as a potential marketing ploy ( again, hated to go there, but haters will), you should be fine. As to looking with care for our country and those who defend it and with patriotism at a flag properly displayed is EXPECTED! Especially when the national anthem is played and or sung. How about a little very kindly worded education for ill-informed Mr Grumpy?!? ;-)

I have a three flag mount on

I have a three flag mount on the rear of my motorcycle. I fly the American flag in the center and higher than the other two flags. The other flags that I fly are the POW-MIA flag and the different branches of the armed services. What is the proper positioning of these flags? I also fly a flag for the Combat Veterans Association.

Hi Gery, if you get the

Hi Gery, if you get the answehere please email me , looks like we have the same flag mount on our bikes, the only thing I have found is The American flag in the center, the army does have regulation that its flag should be to the right from the viewers side and mia to the left . but dont qoute me on this

Hi, Gerry, and Fernando

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gerry, and Fernando below: "Higher than" when in the middle is perfect. When a number of flags are flown at the same height on the back of a bike, then the U.S. flag should sit on the "passenger" side. The flag always rides to its own right on a forward-moving vehicle. Thanks for asking and caring!

I was told that when the flag

I was told that when the flag is at half staff because of a death. that it should fly separately from the state and school flags? my school had it at half staff but have Ohio state flag under it and then the school flag.

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)

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