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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Ah, so you are an

Ah, so you are an idiot..............Get out of the USA and try living where your type of humor will be appreciated. You are the "stupid" one!

IF you respect it as you say

IF you respect it as you say then you would understand. True Americans & those who have fought for OUR freedom would disagree with you without hesitation. The next time you think of a ripped flag looks "cool", think of the mother clutching the folded flag at her son or daughter's grave & then think AGAIN!!!

I saw a picture of a parade.

I saw a picture of a parade. All the folks were sitting in their chairs while Our Flag was passing. Except for one wheelchaired man who stood up to salute it's passing. WTF is wrong with this picture?

It was interesting reading

It was interesting reading these comments. It is very clear that this is a very emotional topic. Flags were designed to tell groups of people apart. It gives a visual clue as to where "their" people are.

I do find the current flag worship/obsession to be cause for worry as they people have taken a normal behaviour and carried it to dangerous extremes. Of course we are going to treat our flag with respect - it represents our "group" and we are respectable people. And because it is a representation of our group; the group should control who gets to use the flag.

Where the trouble comes in is when people say they would die for the flag. I am willing to die to defend this country, but the flag? No, the flag is just a symbol. Another problem is when the worshipers/obsessed become abusive towards people who do not feel the same as they do or violate some flag rule.

I hope we can all keep this in perspective. The flag represents the USA and it represents citizens of the USA. It does need to be treated with respect, but not worshiped.

When they say, "I will die

When they say, "I will die for the flag"--most probably--they are using a synecdoche wherein the use of the word 'flag' represents all that we know it symbolizes, such as freedom and the nation, etc.

You just made my day! Have

You just made my day! Have never seen anyone write synecdoche outside of academic setting - thanks for nabbing the opportunity brilliantly!

It symbolizes New York and

It symbolizes New York and all it stands for!

In war, it use to be an honor

In war, it use to be an honor to drop your weapon and recover the "colors" from a fallen comrade and carry it forth to battle.

An earlier comment stated

An earlier comment stated that these guidelines were suggestions, not laws.
Well there are laws relating to the displaying of the American Flag.
See the Congressional Research, Service of the Library of Congress, report by James Hall, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division.
I is very explicit and is too long to repeat here ...But I will repeat one short paragraph.
"All the states, at one time or other, have enacted laws relating to the United States flag. Whereas the Federal Flag Code does not provide penalties for certian conduct or may may not govern certain practices, state law may do so. Therefore, it is advisable to consider applicable provisions of state law, as well as federal law on questions of proper use of the flag."
So in most cases the Flag Code is a guide and is purely voluntary to insure proper respect for the flag.
There also is a section of the flag code that addresses the use of the flag in jewelry, commercial products, wearing apparel, and advertising.
Ask at your Congress person's office for a copy of flag displaying guidelines.
They have lots of information they can send to you.
Now would be a good time as they will want to keep you happy.

True, but State Flag Law has

True, but State Flag Law has absoulelty no affect on US Flag Code, nor on the US Flag usage. States may not pass laws supersceding Federal Code.

I will often proudly wear a

I will often proudly wear a hat or tee shirt with the American flag prominent. I don't mean it as disrespect, but as a declaration of my pride. I don't think the Founding Fathers would disapprove of that, considering the sentiment being expressed, and the evolution of our societal ways. While I certainly appreciate and respect tradition, I think the "guidelines" should be flexible in consideration of the intent of the display of "Old Glory". I'm sure the Founding Fathers, or "rule" makers never could have anticipated the many ways Americans would eventually choose to express their love and reverence for our American flag. As a proud veteran of The Vietnam Era, I love wearing the colors and do so whenever and wherever.
Also, the above "rules" neglected to say that when hung vertically, the Union should be on the upper left, as seen by the viewer.
God bless America! Love it or leave it!

I agree with you that the

I agree with you that the founders of this country would not take issue with flags being on hats and clothing as some, non military, had sewn mini flags on their "uniforms".

My father was in the US Air

My father was in the US Air Force for 22 years and flew for various units of the 6315th Special Operations Group. I was around for 16 of those years before he retired and a year later, I joined the military proudly serving during the Vietnam era and was in-country a couple of times for short periods of time.
All of my life i was told that if the US Flag was to be worn anywhere on an article of clothing, it was to be worn on the left shoulder above any military rank or insignia to signify that I am an American first, US military personnel second.
The stars on the US Flag are to be closest to the heart to show my admiration, love, respect, and protection of the states represented by the stars should the need to protect the states should arise.
I see so many US Military personnel (Officers, NCO's, and Enlisted personnel) walking around today with the US Flag on their right shoulders with the stars close to their backs that I want to dress them down and tell them that if they don't get that flag on their shoulders squared away, I will see to it they are reassigned to Fort Wainwright, Alaska where they will spend the rest of their military career shoveling snow off the sidewalks of the NCO family housing.
As for non-military personnel wearing the US Flag on their clothing, I see this a lot, especially on the BASS circuit, but they are at least wearing them properly and respectfully, honoring all of our past and present US military personnel.

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?

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