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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? I have been informed by a

? I have been informed by a retired LTC that the American flag and the state flag when being flown on two seperate poles in front of a public school, the state flag is suppose to be flown 12" below the American flag. I have never heard this before and I would sure loke to know if I have been wrong for so many years.

When the U.S. flag is flown

The Editors's picture

When the U.S. flag is flown with flags of states 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, which is to its own right. No other flag ever should be placed above the U.S. flag. The state flag may be smaller but never larger. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.

If The Colors are cased is

If The Colors are cased is there a need to Salute. What regulation covers cased Colors?

My thought is if the flags

My thought is if the flags are cased (and I assume you mean in a protective cover with the staff), then the flag is treated with reverence, but not saluted since it is not visible.

I have a Marine Corps flag

I have a Marine Corps flag and I want to put it post it outside my house. What's the rules for that?

The ONLY flag? Then use

The ONLY flag? Then use whatever rules the Corps says for it.

hey is the flag ok to be

hey is the flag ok to be outside in storms?

The only time u can fly the

The only time u can fly the flag in bad weather is if it is an all weather flag, otherwise u must take it down

One NEVER flies the national

One NEVER flies the national flag in inclement weather (rain, snow, sleet, hail). It is not "OK" to do so. An 'all weather' flag means the materials it is constructed from (fade resistant, wind-related).

This information is incorrect

This information is incorrect as having previous personal experience of being in charge of determining the raising, lowering and type of flag to be posted on a military instillation I can tell you that during inclement weather an all weather flag is the only type of flag that can be flown. If you do not own this type of flag then yes you would take it down to prevent damage. There not a need to remove an all weather flag from display during rain or such. however there are some additional things that you must be aware of if you take it down at night. These include having a place that the flag can hang in the proper manner within your house or office in which it can dry to prevent mold and mildew from building up on the flag before being folded. However as long as you make sure that the flag is not damaged it is in no way disrespectful to have the American flag fly during a storm. I also advise to use common sense in certain cases for instance if you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes and this is the type of storm you are questioning then bring the flag inside for this is one case in which you cannot guarantee the safety of the flag. I hope that this helps shine some light on the subject.

When the colors were posted

When the colors were posted yesterday at the Bataan March out at WSMR, the U.S. Flag was properly placed. My question: Is it acceptable that the New Mexico flag was near twice the size of the U.S. Flag? It sure didn't look proper.

Entirley improper to US FLag

Entirley improper to US FLag code, yes. Not enforceable, but certainly improper.

The guidelines say the flag

The guidelines say the flag can not be worn? The Military, Police Officers, wear the American Flag on uniforms etc. Is this acceptable by the guidelines?

A patch of a flag is not a

A patch of a flag is not a flag. The situation that brings this question out is that a flag in itself cannot be used as clothing. That means that you cannot take a flag, cut it up, make a shirt and wear it. It does not prohibit wearing a flag patch on a uniform.

what is the answer to Mike

what is the answer to Mike Krites question? I have noticed on several TV shows about law enforcement that they do not wear a patch of the American flag - why is that? Also I noticed my local law enforcement does not wear the US flag patch.

No, a whole flag may never be

No, a whole flag may never be worn AS a garment. A complete whole flag emblem IS allowed on uniforms, and is to be placed on the unifrom to look as if it is its own living thing and look as if it is being flown properly. It can be placed horizintal (common) or vertical (rare).

I live in Texas and I noticed

I live in Texas and I noticed a business in the area that had the American Flag & the Mexican flag flying at the same height, on different flag poles, is it against the flag code to do so? The same business also had a Texas flag flying but lower than the Mexican flag, it just does not seem like this would be the correct positioning. Any clarification on these two situations would be greatly appreciated.

According to the Chicago

The Editors's picture

According to the Chicago regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

Thank you for the

Thank you for the clarification. Is it acceptable for the Texas flag to be flown lower than the Mexican flag? They have the US, Mexican & Texas flag displayed with the US & Mexican at the same height but the Texas flag is lower.

The flags should be flown

The flags should be flown from separate poles, at the same height, but the U.S. flag is to be raised first and lowered last.

According to the Flag Code,

According to the Flag Code, when displaying the US flag with any other flag on separate staffs the US flag should be flown as the first on the left side of anyone viewing the flags. Flags of other countries should always be flown at the same height b ut always to the right of the US flag as viewed by an observer

I was told by a US Air Force

I was told by a US Air Force Sgt, that there is one day in the year that the American Flag should not be flown. Can you tell me what day of the year that would be?

According to The American

The Editors's picture

According to The American Flag Foundation, the American flag should be displayed every day, but especially on holidays, including state holidays and during local celebrations.

Ok your saying that I can fly

Ok your saying that I can fly my island flag next to the American flag as long it is properly locate it side by side
I though if your in thus country no flag should fly next to the American flag but underneath please advise
Now my island flag flys underneath

According to the Chicago

The Editors's picture

According to the Chicago regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

I fly a USA and USMC flag on

I fly a USA and USMC flag on separate poles which are not height adjustable. When flags are flown half mast, which is not doable with my poles, do I not fly them?

Thanks

If you cannot fly a flag at

If you cannot fly a flag at half mast you should hang a black ribbon or banner on it.

Flags are lowered to "half

Flags are lowered to "half mast" on a ship. It is flown at "half staff " when on a pole.

t "see half-mast."

t "see half-mast." Definitions for half-mast from those 2 sources:
" The position about halfway up a mast or pole at which a flag is flown as a symbol of mourning for the dead or as a signal of distress. Also called half-staff." The marine thing is false...

Has he U.S. ever lowered the

Has he U.S. ever lowered the American Flag to half staff over the white house for the death of another country's leader before Mandella?

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