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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I didn't see any reference to

I didn't see any reference to the Olympic Game in the collection of comments. I hate to watch the winners wrap up in our flag like it was a blanket. Then they stand as the National Anthem is played as though they were winners. That's when the judges should intervene. Am I wrong? (US Navy retired, proud)

according to Wikipedia (not

according to Wikipedia (not the greatest source but the easiest to find) The flag should not be used as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery", or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general (exception for coffins). Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes.

If it's a non-US territory, I

If it's a non-US territory, I can't see how the US flag etiquette applies, only general flag etiquette - and in all fairness, most (all?) other flags' etiquette is not as hardcore or 'OCD' as the US flag and it should be treated with the same amount of respect as other flags... but not any more.

So the flag with the gold

So the flag with the gold fringe on it hanging in a court room is not a true United States flag. So that would make that court room not a United States court. Hmmmm.....probably why the scumbag judge says, this is my court room.

"Gold fringe is used on the

"Gold fringe is used on the National flag as an honorable enrichment only. It is not regarded as an integral part of the flag and its use does not constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statutes.

Records of the Department of the Army indicate that fringe was used on the National flag as early as 1835 and its official use by the Army dates from 1895. There is no record of an Act of Congress or Executive Order which either prescribes or prohibits the addition of fringe, nor is there any indication that any symbolism was ever associated with it. The use of fringe is optional with the person or organization displaying the flag."
1925 Attorney General quote

Thank you SO much for this.

Thank you SO much for this. When I was in grade school, the 8th graders were responsible on a rotating basis for raising and lowering the flag every day. When I lived outside the U.S. for a few years, the sight of the flag always lifted my heart. And my Dad was a WW2 Marine veteran, who taught his kids proper care and use of the flag. Your article brings all that order and comfort back to me :-)

I deploy soon, my family

I deploy soon, my family recently acquired a flag to fly in front of the house - perfect, now my son wants embroidered "until they all come home" on it, In honor of me until I come home. Would it be entirely wrong to have this done? Even if it's with a professional embroiderer.
Solid black letters with the above saying.

Hi, Lilith: It's a great

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lilith: It's a great thought, but totally not allowed. Thanks for asking -- and serving!

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for your service. Per flag code, nothing can be emboidered or added to the stars and stripes.

You could have a seperae

You could have a seperae banner made up and hang it from the bottom clasp oof the flag.

One should NEVER embroider

One should NEVER embroider anything on the American flag, maybe instead hav a small embroidered flag to have with the American flag

Lilith, Thank you for your

Lilith, Thank you for your many sacrifices. Sending endless love, hugs, and prayers all the way from Texas, From my family to yours.

I love the quote y'all have selected. May I use it as well? It's Perfect.

Thank you for your service,

Thank you for your service, and I know your son means well, but the flag can never be defaced with embroidry.

Is it ok to run with a small

Is it ok to run with a small flag? I'm a runner and like to carry my flag with me. People respond well to this and I do it to instill patriotism in myself and others. But is it technically ok?

Hi, Andy: It is generally

The Editors's picture

Hi, Andy: It is generally fine to run with the flag -- actually, it's a super thing that you do! That being said, you should be carrying it on a small staff (we assume you are just talking about a little wooden dowel type of thing). Of course, wearing it is not allowed, and sort of carrying it with a corner crumpled up in your hand is frowned upon. Similarly, it should not be carried when running, even if on a staff, if in some way it is going to become dirty or sweaty or otherwise bedraggled. And we do hope that when you cross the finish line you hold it as high as you can!

Is there an "official" siting

Is there an "official" siting for this? I have man acquaintances who run with large American flags in mud runs and the flags typically become soiled during the races. I feel this is not honoring the flag, they feel otherwise.

No, they should not. THere

No, they should not. THere are running caps (like painters caps, very light wieght and thin, cotton) that have a mechaniosm on the clasp in backl that allows for a small flag to be placed. This way it is highwer than you , out of the way of sweat, etc.

To my understanding the flag

To my understanding the flag can be mended as needed....what if the flag has been badly torn do to extreme weather?

Hi, Michael: You are correct

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michael: You are correct -- mending that is done carefully and neatly is certainly allowed, and flying a mended flag is certainly better than flying no flag at all. You are wise to recognize that it is a matter of degree, though. It is very hard even for a professional to mend a badly tattered flag, because often there is missing material, even if only threads, in areas where it is really frayed, and patching is seriously discouraged. The bottom line is how the flag looks when it is flown. If mends are going to make it look really shriveled or wrinkled, then it might be time to properly retire it in favor of a new volunteer. Great question -- thanks for asking!

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 ??