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
        Presidents’ Day, third Monday in February; formerly Washington’s Birthday, February 22
        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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Lighting at night

We have a power pole with a night light from dusk till dawn and thought about putting flag pole about 40 ft. away. The light would be approximately 10 ft. higher. Would this be properly lit?

Taking a Pole

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mahlon: This would really depend on the strength and type of light bulb/lens, so it’s difficult to say. But if you think it is, then we’ll agree, because with Old Glory it’s often the thought that counts. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Black American Flag

I have been seeing more and more American flags outside homes that are altered and all the stars and stripes are black, or the back the blue flags with a blue stripe, etc. Is this acceptable?

In the Eye of the Beholder

The Editors's picture

Hi, Anna: Such altered flags no longer are Old Glory, but simple “flag art,” which is protected by Freedom of Speech. Whether it is acceptable to alter our national flag like this is a matter of taste. Thanks for asking!

Embroid a Flag

Son in laws Father passed (his birthday was on Flag Day ) Son in law and siblings are policemen and district attorneys .. is it wrong to purchase each of them a United States Flag and embroider their Fathers Initials and dates of Birth/Death ?? Thank you.

Embroidery

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tami: To do so would not necessarily be “wrong,” but the flags would then become simply mementos, not to be flown. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Using the flag for education purposes

Is it acceptable to secure small folded flags on a display board as an educational step by step display of how to correctly fold the flag?

Temp Help

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jenny: It would be perfectly OK to do this temporarily, and the exercise could also be a good chance to teach that ordinarily, Old Glory should always be displayed “flying free,” and not folded in some partial way. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Display US flag along with a political flag

Our neighbors have an American flag displayed on a flag holder on their porch, along with a flag for a political person, a former president. They have both flags hanging together, side by side, from the same pole. I thought the American flag was supposed to be on a higher level than any other flag. What's the proper etiquette here?

"Side by Side"

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cathy: We’re having a hard time visualizing what you describe, but it sounds as though both flags are attached to the halyard at the same points, so that when they fly, they are sort of flying together, touching each other, etc. This is not really acceptable for a secondary flag, regardless of what or who it represents. If this must be done, though, for whatever reason, then Old Glory should be attached such tha she flies to the left of the other one as you face them. When on separate staffs, Old Glory can be the same size as others and/or at the same level, as long as she is on the left when faced. Thanks for asking!

material of a flag

Our local little league would like to have a flag printed on sheet metal and displayed on the backstop so that the players can pledge to it prior to the game. Even if it is properly lite, is it proper to salute this "metal" flag?

Metal No-No

The Editors's picture

Hi, LC Doc: An image of Old Glory printed on metal is “flag art,” not a flag. Since the Pledge needs to be made to Old Glory, the flag, it would thus not be proper to pledge to a piece of metal, however handsome the image. (Many leagues simply clip Old Glory flat against the backstop, either permanently [if all-weather and lit] or game by game.) Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Indoor Civilian Flag Ceremony

Our church is conducting a patriotic event indoors. In years past, we had our Boy Scout troop conduct a flag ceremony. We have discontinued our association with BSA, so our boys are no longer scouts and no longer have uniforms. Is it proper to conduct a formal flag ceremony without a uniformed color guard? Or would it just be more appropriate to display the flag before the event starts? The pledge will be recited.

Uniform Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brad: Well, first of all, anyone can conduct any kind of flag ceremony they want, thanks to Freedom of Speech (not to mention possibly Freedom of Religion in this case). This being said, color guards are usually reserved for organizations of some type, whether military or otherwise, since traditionally it was always assumed that some level of organization or coordination or some such would have been necessary to successfully “guard the colors.” Thus, all things considered, it might be simpler just to have Old Glory already displayed rather than marched in. After all, she’s still Old Glory, either way. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Unsheathing a flag

Hello,
I was recently setting up for the 4th of July ceremony in my town and an Army Soldier pulled the sleeve sheath off of the American flag and posted it in the flag stand. Someone of higher rank hustled over and explained that he just disrespected the flag by not calling the area to attention and having the other Soldiers salute. How should he have unsheathed the flag?
Thank you,
Daniel

Old Glory Unsheathed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Daniel: The higher rank was correct. Unsheathing Old Glory is basically the same as raising her up a pole and should be treated accordingly. One way to have done this would have been for the area to be called to attention and salute while one soldier removed the sleeve from Old Glory as she was being held in a dipped position by another, who would then place her in the stand. Another would have been to have unsheathed her “in private” and then marched her into the area, again with attention and salute. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Proper display

I recently saw a picture of a headstone wrapped in the American flag and bungee corded around it I have never seen this before and cannot find any reference to it online I don't think it's proper display though is that correct

When Wrong Is Right

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: This really is not a proper use of Old Glory, but as is often the case among patriots, it’s the thought that counts, especially when it comes to honoring the departed. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Proper or not?

I have been approached regarding a project that involves cutting the star field from flags that are due to be decommissioned and sewing a backing on them. They are then used to give to patients at the local VA Nursing Home or used when they give a wounded warrior a therapy dog. Is this an appropriate and honoring way to repurpose a flag (the star field) or not? I would expect the remainder of the flag to be treated the same way as if it were whole. and needing to be retired. Thank you for your reply.

Repurpose With a Purpose

The Editors's picture

Hi, Eileen: This would seem to be perfectly OK, as long as the union (“star field”) itself is not overly worn or in desrepair in some way and was not what caused the flag to be retired to begin with. Thanks for asking!

Position of the American flag displayed at a Sailing/Golf club

At a Club where sailing, golf, swimming, etc. was offered, we noticed the American flag was not at the top of the flag pole. It was positioned to fly diagonally from the pole. At the top of the pole was a triangle shaped flag that we were told identified the club. Is this proper?

When a Gaff Is Not a Gaff

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patty: You are describing what is known as a gaff-rigged flagpole, and it sounds as though everything is correct. The horizontal pole mounted to the tall pole is the yardarm. Old Glory flies on a halyard attached to a third pole, the gaff, mounted at 90 degrees to both the main pole and the yardarm. This type of rigging originated in nautical days when it was really hard to see a national flag at the very top of the high masts, so they were brought down to fly off “diagonal” staffs at the sterns of ships. Thus you can sort of see how your club’s arrangement is a combination, or condensing, of a flag at the very top of the pole with a diagonal staff for Old Glory a little lower down. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag respect

Is it considered disrespectful to fly a large American flag in front of a business?
Thank you, Greg

Biz as Usual

The Editors's picture

Hi, Greg: No, it’s not, assuming that Old Glory remains in somewhat the proper proportion to the height of the pole (1:4 to 1:5). Thanks for asking!

Flag wearing

I thought it was wrong to drape or wear the flag over yourself.

Right

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jay: You are correct, and we applaud both you and Kaitlyn below for being so patriotic as to bring this up and comment on it!

I am currently in the Army

I am currently in the Army National Guard. Am i allowed to post a picture of the flag wrapped around me that is not touching the ground?

Wrong

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kaitlyn: While we can somewhat overlook Olympians and other athletes who sometimes get carried away in the moment, it is improper for the rest of us to drape Old Glory around ourselves, regardless of whether we are civilian or military. Thank you for your service, and thanks for asking!

Etiquette for home use flags.

l i had a question i was hoping you could answer. what about flying a US flag at a civilian house, not the type you raise/lower everyday, just a 3' X 5' you hook onto a stationary pole and mount from a bracket to the edge of the roof. should we take off the entire pole every evening at sundown leaving only the bracket affixed to the roof, etc. etc.

Whatever Works

The Editors's picture

Hi, Josh: You can either remove Old Glory from the staff or remove the staff from the bracket—whichever is easier. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

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