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

Leave a Comment

current military uniform regs

current military uniform regs have the flag on both shoulders of BDU.the star field is to the front of the uniform,not towards heart or whatever.I liked it the old way too. -former USAF staff Sgt.

The above rules certainly do

The above rules certainly do specifially adress vertical hangs, and wearing A FLAG as a garment or garment material is prohibited, not merely displaying the image of the WHOLE FLAG as an emblem, that is acceptable.

The United States Flag may be

The United States Flag may be flown in any weather as long as a weather resistant flag is flown, as well as at night if it is lighted. This is in the flag code as well. :)

If you do not honor GOD then

If you do not honor GOD then how can you honor our country? Our constitution is based on God and His precepts. America will fall if people continue to disregard Him. Our flag is a symbol of our faith.Do not dishonor it!

The best way to honor God and

The best way to honor God and Country is to be a good person.
You can be a good person or a bad person whether you claim to be a Christian or not.
The important thing is to respect people of all faiths and orientations.
After all, most of our founding fathers weren't Christians, they were Deists. They understood the critical importance of separation of Church and State. Too bad so many Americans are determined to undermine this critically important pillar of our Democracy.

With all due respect to your

With all due respect to your personal beliefs, you are very seriously mistaken here. According to the First Amendment of the Constitution, Congress shall make no law with regard to religion. The flag is purely a national symbol and has no relationship to your god or your religion whatsoever. The American flag is not a symbol of anything except the United States of America. Faith has nothing to do with it. To place your particular religious beliefs above others in this way is, in my opinion, extremely UN-patriotic and totally UN-American. If you believe in American freedom, that must include the freedom to choose ANY religion or NO religion at all!

As befits Old Glory with

As befits Old Glory with Memorial Day near, I'd ask everyone to listen to or read the lyrics to "Ragged Old Flag" by Johnny Cash.

It is not a long song, but in his own country manner, I think Johnny says a lot in a few words. His song ends with these words:

"So we raise her up every morning, we take her down every night
We don't let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
Cause I'm mighty proud of the Ragged Old Flag"

Through his words, Johnny Cash touches the hearts of every American who has sworn to protect her and every American who has suffered or lost a loved one in her defense. Please have a happy holiday, but do not forget what Memorial Day is really about. Fly your Flag proudly, watch your local parade, thank a veteran or military member you know, and go to your local cemetary and care for the grave of a veteran whose family can't. You will feel the pride of being an American just as Johnny did every time he sang this song. You might just feel your heart skip a beat and find a tiny tear well up in your eyes. There are people behind our America who deserve this one small thought from those of us lucky enough to call ourselves American!

As has been pointed out,

As has been pointed out, these are guidelines, not laws. It is unfortunate that some manufacturers print images of the American flag on all sorts of products, including items (e.g. paper napkins) destined for the kind of use to which our flag should never be subjected (e.g. wiping one's mouth and throwing in the trash).

It is equally unfortunate that citizens purchase these items. If more people were cognizant of the flag code and exercised common sense, perhaps the manufacturers would not sell so many of these products and would have to find another way to make money from patriotism.

Babs Clark really hit the nail on the head. The founders were keenly aware of the bloody religious civil wars which had recently wreaked so much havoc and destruction in Europe and they were determined that religion would be a matter of personal conscience, not government mandate. We must be vigilant to not allow historical revisionists to recreate our nation's history according to their prejudices and preferences.

And we should be equally vigilant about non-fact-based criticisms of our leaders. We might not always agree with them, but we shouldn't just make stuff up. "Free speech" is a poor excuse for slander.

To truly be a flag of the

To truly be a flag of the USA, size, colors and dimension ratio specifications must be met. Just because an item has stars and stripes in red, white and blue does not make it an American flag. Items not meeting the criteria are merely patriotic decorations not subject to the regulations. My choice is to decline to use those items but knowing that they are not really flags helps to ease the sting of seeing others choose to display them in ways that would disrespect a flag.

The US Flag Code is not

The US Flag Code is not regulations nor law, and are not cuurrenty=ly enforcable. Individual State Flag Codes, that is an entirely different matter (when speaking of the repsective STATE flag, and STATE flags only)

IOW< States may not make laws regarding the US flag, no matter what.

I have a question...the flag

I have a question...the flag one receives for a fallen soldier or a deceased soldier---does that flag need to stay folded and in its case or can it be flown? what is proper?

I believe it is a personal

I believe it is a personal choice but I was raised to beleive that once folded it is to stay folded and if there are empty shell casings inside the folded flag they are to remain there.

That depsnds on how bad it

That depsnds on how bad it smells! Folded or not, you need to take care of the flag!

In Memorial Day, the American

In Memorial Day, the American Legion takes our solder's flags to the cemetery to fly in a place of honor. That is the only time they are flown.

I think it depends on the

I think it depends on the family. My family allowed my grandfather's flag to be flown at the local school for many years until it was ultimately retired. My other grandfather's flag is still folded in a case. Personally, I think the choice is about how best to store/use the flag to respect the individual who died and the flag itself.

When considering these rules,

When considering these rules, remember these pertinent facts:

1. These rules were made by joint resolution of Congress in time of war. They were never made into law. Consider them as guidelines, and consider them well.

2. The rules all echo the underlying requirement for freedom (free movement) in the symbolism of the treatment of the flag. TSA, Homeland Security and other police-state agencies should be especially mindful of the freedom underlying the symbolism of the flag.

3. Boycott all products which disrespectfully depict the flag of the USA, especially those manufactured in enemy countries. This small step helps your country in more than a symbolic way.

This all certainly makes for

This all certainly makes for interesting reading! I, too, wish more people were aware of proper flag etiquette and that more flags were displayed at home for our national holidays. This is a good beginning, though.

As to the image of the flag now appearing on everything from paper cups to diapers and every imaginable object in between..... well, remember that we live in a republic which guarantees freedom of speech and, in one sense, you could (albeit loosely!) interpret such uses as examples of the same. Properly speaking, the image of the flag shouldn't be used like this, but then how to account for American flags being depicted in paintings or photographs?

Just like all else, usage of our flag and flag imagery may change over time just as readily as our society itself changes. But... is it still proper or does it become proper through these changes?

It's all about respect.

It's all about respect.

On the point of what to do

On the point of what to do with an American flag when it is no longer a fitting emblem, please take it to your nearest American Legion Post for the annual ceremony on June the 14th. Also note that burning the American flag is becoming an unacceptable practice (adds to the greenhouse gases that is melting the polar regions and heating up the atmosphere). Probably, Congress should revise their flag's resolution for a more modern day American society. Carried horizontally?; Watch a football game open ceremony. Not used for advertising purposes?; Did you ever see a gal wearing one as a bikini at the beach? Honor the United States of America with a forgiving mind, a loving spirit, and peaceful actions. Then "old gorly" will be the symbol of greatest nation the world has ever known. It is a far better thought that God would bless each and every person on earth than for God to only bless American.

One 'retires' the flag - it

One 'retires' the flag - it is not 'burned'...as for greenhouse gases increasing from this practice: the volcanoes that are spewing cause more harm than the flag retirements.

It says it SHOULD never.

It says it SHOULD never. Theres no law that makes it officail rule. There are always inconsiderate businesses and people who will use our nation symbol as a scummy way to make a couple bucks.

The burning of the US flag is

The burning of the US flag is NOT becoming unnacceptable, the thought that it is becoming unnacaeptable to burn is itself unnaceptable!

The Retiring of the US Flag involves BURNING the flag after CUTTING it properly.

Dont burn All-Weather FLags, made of Nylon, toxic. Clotyh flags are very ok to burn and do NOT contribute to GReenhouse gasses.

Correction on the last entry

Correction on the last entry of the article..."When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferrably by burning." Before you burn our great flag, PLEASE cut the stars section from the stripes. Then you will be burning two pieces of cloth and not our flag.
One other thing of note. I can't remember any other President apologizing to the world for Americans. Please Mr President, don't apologize for me. I'm too proud of my country to ever bow down in humility for being an American.

Right One Sam!

Right One Sam!

There are protocols as to

There are protocols as to retiring a flag. I remember our troop, armed with scissors, would cut the field (stars) first; then another scout patrol would cut the red stripes and place in a container. White stripes were placed in another container. When all flags were done we took them to an undertaker who volunteered to 'cremate' the piles. The ashes of all these flags (more than 100) were placed in an urn and these were ceremoniously placed on hallowed ground (our local cemetery). All Scouts were duly impressed with an increased awareness of respect and honor.

It's my belief our country is

It's my belief our country is primarily about the freedom of thought and religion. Whether we believe in a 'god' or not, it is our choice. One can still have respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without believing in the supremacy of a supreme being. THAT, to me, is what America is -- the ability to



"One Nation Under 'God'

"One Nation Under 'God'
There are no atheists in a foxhole. But to choose is, yes, a right men and women have died for.

The settlers came here for

The settlers came here for freedom of religion. The section under god was not original. It was later added! I'm not sure what service you served in but the one I do respects all religions and allows their soldiers to practice freely. The Americas were founded on the separation of church and state!

The phrase "separation of

The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the United States Constitution. In the First Amendment, however, we are given to believe that no law-maker has the right to choose a national religion for us. Also, I believe that it gives people the right NOT to believe in God. The phrase "separation of church and state" was first seen in a letter which Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association on the first day of 1802—which was nearly 13 years AFTER our Constitution was put into effect on the 4th of March, 1789. (and therefore NOT foundational) He was responding to a letter written to him by the aforementioned association. They were concerned that--in the future--some law-maker or other person in power might see fit to make legislation which dictated how/when/where/with what type of religious group or even if Americans MUST worship.
In his response, Thomas Jefferson attempted to reassure this group by saying,
"Believing with you that religion is a
matter which lies solely between man
and his God, that he owes account to
none other for his faith or his
worship, that the legislative powers
of government reach actions only, and
not opinions, I contemplate with
sovereign reverence that act of the
whole American people which declared
that their legislature would "make no
law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof," thus building a
wall of separation between Church and
The First Amendment put boundaries on what could be legislated. It did not, however, in any way, shape, or form allow for people to be berated because they believe that--in a basic way--our Nation was formed on Christian values. Is this a Christian nation? Definitely, it is not anymore. But was it formed by men who knew their Bibles well and who believed in an Almighty Creator and who strove to live lives which honored Him? Why, yes. Yes, it was. I believe that a responsible and honest researcher would find it to be true.
One of my problems is that people have put forth this offal in regard to what 'separation of church and state' meant to the founding fathers (and, therefore, what it should mean to us) and have 'equivocated' its meaning into something more palatable to them for SO long that we’re actually starting to believe the lies. It wasn't supposed to mean that we can't pray in public or in school or have a Bible in public or have the words "In God We Trust" on the walls of governmental buildings. And that is what--mostly thanks to the ACLU--we now have as "truth" in our nation--that Christianity is in no way allowed to even hint at touching anything governmental. Malarkey!! Read the papers of the Founding Fathers of our Nation! Read transcripts of the inaugural speeches of every single American President, even our current one. Phrases such as "...that Almighty Being..." and "...His Providence..." and "...that Being in whose Hands we are..." are found in transcripts of speeches from the earliest presidents of our great nation.
Sadly, we've evolved into a nation wherein Christianity is 'persona non grata.’ God and Christianity are shoved—quickly—into the cupboard under the stairs whilst practically every other type of religion is shown the most comfy chair and given the best food and drink available in our home. It makes zero sense to me is why we're not allowed to pray to God or read our bibles in school, but if we want to get down on a prayer rug three times a day and pray to Allah--well, then that is perfectly acceptable and no one will naysay that at all. But they sure will fight vehemently against any show that someone might love and want to serve the God of the Bible. Do you not see the hypocrisy? It is a shame that—in order to make all groups to feel more welcome—we as a nation must subdue that which has been a part of our society since the very beginning. 
And in regard to the actual subject of the thread and not ‘realitycheck’s comment, I’m glad these rules have been posted. I’m often amazed at how many businesses have Old Glory flying at night without the ‘light shining’ on her.

Lolly, Hooray for you!!! I

Hooray for you!!! I could not have said this any better than you did! I agree with you 1000%--on every single point!