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!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

QUESTION REGARDING FLAG & FLAG POLE

Hi James, instinctively I would suggest it may depend on it's visibity; if its size is comparitively smaller then it might be ok.. Certainly if it affected the appearance of full-staff, then absolutely 'no'.

Thank you

The Editors's picture

Thanks for your input, Jimbo!

Question regarding flag & flag pole

Verizon wants to mount an antenna on the top of the flagpole which currently exists at the entry gate to our residential community. It would be above the flag and I believe this would be disrespectful. What are your thoughts. Thanks.

Taking a Pole

The Editors's picture

Hi, James: Our thoughts are that this would not be in very good taste. Thanks for asking!

Order of flags

When flying a state flag and a POW/MIA flag below the American flag, what is the correct order?

Stated Priority

The Editors's picture

Hi, Steve: The state would fly above the POW/MIA. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Timing of a flag raising

We are having our local military honor guard at our family reunion. Would it be improper to conduct a flag raising as part of their service. It is scheduled for noontime. My father taught my grandsons the proper way to raise a flag, and we would like for them to demonstrate that. Are flags only raised at certain times of the day. Thank you

Any Time Is Right

The Editors's picture

Hi, Destiny: It would be perfectly proper and beautiful to have a flag-raising at your reunion at noontime. Old Glory can be raised at any time of day except night, if that makes any sense. Thanks for asking!

Any Time Is Right

The Editors's picture

Hi, Destiny: It would be perfectly proper and beautiful to have a flag-raising at your reunion at noontime. Old Glory can be raised at any time of day except night, if that makes any sense. Thanks for asking!

Displaying large flags

Can a flag that covered a casket be flown from a home yard flag pole?

Casket Ask It

The Editors's picture

Hi, Marilyn: It most certainly can. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

First raising of U.S. Flag on a newly installed flag pole

Are you aware of a special ceremony or special procedures for raising the American flag for the first time on a newly installed flag pole? We are a new community and just finished installing our new, first flag pole. A resident brought up the subject of conducting a "first flag to be raised on a new pole" ceremony. With 4 years at West Point and 20 years in the military, I had not come across this matter although I can't recall every having been someplace with a brand new flag pole. Any ideas? References or sources?

News to Us All

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: First of all, thank you for your service! Second, this is news to us as well, so it sounds like you all are free to come up with as beautiful, creative, and respectful a ceremony as you can! Thanks for asking!

Crafting with mini flags

Have seen some people using fabric flags in crafts, such as gluing to a jar for patio candle holders. Any guidelines for this type of thing?

Crafty Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nana: This type of thing is known as “flag art” and is protected under Freedom of Speech, so it is totally OK (although whether tasteful is often another matter!). Thanks for asking!

American Flag displayed on a staff crossing over the state flag

American flag on its own staff crossed over a state flag with its own staff. Should American flag stillnbe to the speakers right?

At Crossed Purposes

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rod: Yes, the flag itself would still be at the speaker’s right if behind the speaker, although the bottom of the staff may start out at the speaker’s left. Thanks for asking!

Taking flag down

A flag is taken down at end of school day. It never touches the ground, but is taken inside where 2 people properly fold it until the next day. They were this is disrespectful, and should be folded immediately.

Unfolding Drama

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bonnie: Technically, you’re correct, but sometimes it’s best if we cut a little slack if there’s a little slack in Old Glory before she gets properly folded. But thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Reporting when a flag is not displayed or displayed improperly.

Who do you contact when the U.S. Post Office does not display the U.S. Flag and the POW/MIA Flags?

In the Mail

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patrick: If you can’t get any satisfaction by talking with the postmaster in person or by phone, you would call the USPS customer service line at 1-800-275-8777. Thanks for asking!

Wind tosses my American flag up onto gutter

My flag is at my front door and is hung at 45% angle. When the wind blows Is there a proper way to weight the flag to keep it off the roof or the roof gutter?
Suggestions appreciated.

Blowin' in the Wind

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bonnie: This is a perplexing problem, isn’t it? Although by rights Old Glory is supposed to fly free as a bird, there are a number of things to try. One is to sew split-shot fishing sinkers (or any, really) into the bottom corner, or some coins. You can also buy actual flag weights that affix with adhesive to the flag. We have tried all of these to some (often declining) degree of success. Another approach is to actually try to weight the bottom corner of the flag down by anchoring it to the ground below. We took a small, black, office banana clip (the kind with the wire bales) and clipped it to the corner (we later sewed it to the corner). Then we ran a double length of heavy fishing line through it and tied this to an old padlock that we had. We made the fishline the exact correct length such that the padlock would sit in the hosta bed directly below the corner of the flag and make it look like Old Glory was magically being held in place when the wind blew. This lasted for about a day, so we added a second lock. This lasted about a day, so we put two bricks on top of the locks. This lasted about a week, before a gale came up and ended up flinging the locks off the flag, out from under the bricks, and over against the house. We then decided that Old Glory looked great flying free and wrapped around whatever she wanted to be wrapped around. But you get the idea(s). And thanks for asking!

US flag

Should the flag be taken inside when it rains or for any other kind of inclement kind of weather?

Inside Job

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dixie: Yes, if Old Glory is not an all-weather type, she should be taken inside in inclement weather. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag at Half Mast

A member of our Veterans association passed away. Is it proper and legal to lower our personal flags to half mast to honor our fellow veteran and member of our association?

Legal and Improper

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nicholas: Old Glory should be lowered to half-staff only by presidential or gubernatorial decree (or by some others, plus on certain occasions, plus by custom sometimes—it’s complicated). While it’s certainly the thought that counts, and it’s certainly legal for you to do what you say, as it is protected under Freedom of Speech, imagine what would happen if everybody (people and organizations) chose their own occasions to do so. Eventually, on any given day, there could be millions of flags at half-staff across the nation for one (very good) reason or another, and the specialness of half-staff would be lost. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Displaying an antique flag at a historical museum

Is there a proper way to display a flag of 42 stars on the wall of a historical museum?

Historical 42

The Editors's picture

Hi, Shawn: It would just be mounted flat with the union at the upper left, in the same way that Old Glory would be displayed. Thanks for asking!

American flag

can I fly a 13 star American flag above a 50 stared flag that is blacked out?

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