U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag Flowing

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!


Reader Comments

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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?

Hi, Bill: This is a nice

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: This is a nice thought/gesture, but it is really not proper. An alternative might be to obtain a smaller flag in mourning purple to fly below the U.S. flag in memoriam.

Our displayed flag is on a

Our displayed flag is on a "fixed" staff, and cannot be lowered to half staff. When, like Sunday, Oct 12th, for Fire Prevention - do we simply take it down?

Hi, Larry: Thank you for the

The Editors's picture

Hi, Larry: Thank you for the excellent question and sorry for our belatedness. If possible next time, the best thing to do is tie a black streamer to the top left corner of the flag and keep it raised.

I have one 20foot pole by its

I have one 20foot pole by its self in a section of my yard on top of a large mound of dirt with plants and flowers and in the same yard approx 80feet away I have 2 flag poles mounted ontop of a deck one is 20feet with 2 sports teams flags and the pole next to it is 22 or 24feet with 2 other sports teams flags on it also. I dont want to have other flags near my US flag and I dont want to fly another flag with the us flag.I want to fly my 4 chicago sports teams together.Is it fine if the US flag is lower at another place in the yard if its alone and not near oyher flags?

Hi, Andrew: This is all about

The Editors's picture

Hi, Andrew: This is all about respect for the flag -- which, by asking this question, you show that you have. Thank you. Eighty feet is a little tight for this type of "overshadowing" of the U.S. flag by other flags/pennants of any type, but another thing to consider is that much as you Chicago fans may think otherwise, Chicago sports teams aren't sovereign nations unto themselves. Another thing to bear in mind is that by setting the U.S. flag apart and raising it on a beautified, landscaped mound, you are giving it the preferential treatment that it deserves. We would say that you are good to go.

So My dad passed and I got

So My dad passed and I got his flag I have a flag case but I was trying to find out if i can hang it on the wall point down so i can use it as a shelf for his picture? what is the etiquette for putting flag boxes on the wall? Please help.

Hi, Leigh Ann: Thank you to

The Editors's picture

Hi, Leigh Ann: Thank you to your father for his service! And thank YOU for caring enough to ask this question -- the answer to which is complicated. The bottom line here (well, sort of) is that this flag has been properly folded and is now protected by a case. Nothing can ever be placed on the flag. However, here we are talking about the case, so your usage would be OK. That being said, your memorial display still needs to be placed in a well-lit (but not necessarily specially lit) position of respect (not that you wouldn't). For example, it would be inappropriate for it to be down near the floor or surrounded by felt pennants from your favorite vacation spots. And, although this goes without saying, the photo and case need to be regularly dusted. Go for it. No doubt somebody is pretty proud of you right now for even thinking of this.

Is there a rule of etiquette

Is there a rule of etiquette or published code for flying the flag at night? For example (and to the point), is it required to have a light shining on it? I believe it is code, but I cannot find it. If that is the case, can you please cite the code, as I'm trying to get my homeowners assoc. to get the flag lit at night. Thanks!

The flag should be raised

The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.

google Flag etiquette, there are many sources

I am a cub Master and s

I am a cub Master and s scoutmaster with about 90 boys, I want to teach them right, when lined up with the us flag in front of the line. Where does the colored guard stand in front or behind, I have seen it both ways

Hi, Brian: This is an

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brian: This is an excellent question! Thanks for being so thorough and so patriotic. There are always at least two color guards who guard the flag bearer(s). When they are in a column, one guard goes first. Then comes the U.S. flag. Then any other flag(s). Then the second color guard. The idea is that the flag(s) are guarded on all (well, two) sides. Thanks again to the Leader of the Pack!

As for the state flags being

As for the state flags being flown at the same level as the National Flag is wrong. There is only one state that has the authority to be able to fly their flag at the same height and that is Texas.

When flown with flags of

When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor - to its own right.
..The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger.
..No other flag ever should be placed above it.
So the rule is no other flag higher than old glory, same height is ok

Two flags, US to it's right,

Two flags, US to it's right, more flags, US flag CENTER.

Isn't it improper to have the

Isn't it improper to have the american flag flying the same height as a flag on on ether side of it I thoughtthe american flag is always slightly higher

Our flag should always be at

Our flag should always be at the same height of any country we are not at war with. For diplomatic reasons, you could probably extend that to every country. Same height.
States are different. Stars and Stripes should fly above every state (although someone here said Texas can be same height, but I don't know if that's true.)

Is is appropriate for a

Is is appropriate for a funeral home to fly the flag at half staff when conducting a funeral for a qualified veteran?

Hi, Ben, The short answer is

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ben,
The short answer is no. The only source that we know of to address this is the National Flag Foundation (http://www.usflag.org/nffhalfs...). According to this org, only the U.S. President and, under specific circumstances, the governer of a U.S. state, territory, or possession can the U.S. flag be flown at half staff. On this link page are cited several "good-faith misunderstandings"—examples of government officials who issued such an order. According to the org (NFF), these individuals did not have the proper authority. So, again, it would not be appropriate in the situation you describe.

I work at Walmart and they

I work at Walmart and they have display the American flag along with the state flag indoors and its doesn't look right. When you look at it the American flag its on it left of the state flag and where the stars and strips are pointed west and i thought the stars always pointed to the north star never away from the north star. Am I right about this that the stars are always pointed to the north star???

Hi, Robert: When flags are on

The Editors's picture

Hi, Robert: When flags are on a wall, they can be considered the same as standing on a stage facing us. In that case, the U.S. flag should always be on the right side of the presenters, and thus on the left side of the stage or wall as we face it. The U.S. flag's blue field should always be on the left as we look at it, regardless of where the North Star is. Thanks for caring!