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

Leave a Comment

Coloring the flag Black and White with one blue line supporting.

When I saw this black and white flag with a blue strip, it hit me wrong and is so disrespectful of our beautiful American Flag. Someone made it and donated it to our local Sheriff Dept. I would like solid info to speak to the sheriff with about that B & W flag. Thanks in advance.

Coloring the flag Black and White with one blue line supporting.

When I saw this black and white flag with a blue strip, it hit me wrong and is so disrespectful of our beautiful American Flag. Someone made it and donated it to our local Sheriff Dept. I would like solid info to speak to the sheriff with about that B & W flag. Thanks in advance.

Church Placement at the rear

Due to space limitations at the front of our church we must place our flags at the rear of the sanctuary. Which side (in relation to the pulpit) should we place the American Flag? Do we correctly assume that the Christian Flag is on the opposite side?

Church Placement

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rob: In this case, the back of the church now becomes the “front” for Old Glory purposes. Thus, she would be on the left when viewed from the pulpit and the Christian flag be across the aisle (although not necessarily; it would be OK to have them side by side on the left side when viewed from the pulpit) on the right. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Can you display a flag in a case anytime

We received a flag that was flown over the Capitol for our some the day he graduated from Basic Combat Training. Is it acceptable to store the flag in a shadow box with a frame for the certificate he received from our Senator?

Basic Flag Training

The Editors's picture

Hi, Melissa: Absolutely—and congratulations and thanks to your son. And thank you for asking!

meeting etiquette

Is it a law that meetings, public or private, start with the Pledge of Allegiance while facing the US flag? Or start of day in schools?

Pledge Class

The Editors's picture

Hi, Myron: There are no federal laws to this effect. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Us flag license plate

I wanted to purchase a license plate of the flag for my husband's new car. In SC you only have a plate on the rear of a car. So can we have a flag plate on the front of the car. Thanks

Plated

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sally: Yes, you may, as it is considered “flag art,” not an actual Old Glory herself. Thanks for asking!

Positions of Flags on Home

I will be flying 2 flags (US and Marine Corps) from poles attached to 2 front porch posts.

Facing the porch, which flag goes to the left (right end of the porch)?

Thank you for your assistance.

Left Face!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Katherine: Old Glory would be on the left as you face them. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Indoor display of an authenticated American Flag

Hello! My family was given a beautiful and authenticated American Flag that we would love to respectfully display inside our home. Is having the flag properly displayed horizontally and encased in glass and/or framed along the edges deemed proper flag etiquette?

Frame-Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, LIndsay: Absolutely! Thanks for asking!

Why certain days?

Why should the flag be displayed on Easter? And also, Washington's birthday is February 22nd.

Holidays

The Editors's picture

Hi, George: Thanks for taking the time to read the article above these comments. We say “variable” after Easter because some localities request the flying of Old Glory at that time. And yes, indeed, Washington’s birthday is February 22, but we are giving when it is celebrated, the third Monday (which is actually Presidents’ Day). We have now fixed this area of confusion, so thank you very much for pointing it out!

Flag question

When displayed from a staff projecting from a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff. Does it need to be brought in every night or if left out should it be lighted through the night or is this just for flags one poles. Thank you for your response.

Lit Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ginger: All Old Glories, regardless of how flown, should either be lit at night or taken down/in. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

sewing on flag

Is is disrespectful to sew the word DEMOCRACY on an American flag?

Pro Democracy?

The Editors's picture

Hi, P: Doing so is protected under Freedom of Speech, but it also changes Old Glory from being a flag to being a piece of “flag art,” so you would not be able to properly pledge allegiance to it, for example. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag order

I have a tall flag pole and fly 3 flags, the American flag, marine flag and now An Appeal to Heaven flag. What is the proper order for these flags to fly?

Orderly Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joyce: Just as you state them: US at top, USMC, ATH. Thanks for asking

Flag size

Recently noticed a faded, tattered U.S. flag and State flag at local city hall. It took two weeks for them to change the U.S. flag and they replaced it with a new flag that is smaller than the faded, tattered State flag (which they didn't change). Is there an etiquette concern here having the U.S. flag smaller? I think the flag that was replaced was a 5x8 and they replaced it with a 3x5.

Sizing Things Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: An Old Glory flying with a state flag should be of equal or greater size. Thanks for asking!

flag at half staff

i want to display an American flag at half staff to Honor and remember those that have died from Covid, to express grief for those lost and to acknowledge a Nation in mourning.
I want to do this with respect for our country and its Democratic ideals.
How may i best do this?

Big-Hearted

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lawrence: Your big heart is certainly in the right place, but it is not a good idea to fly Old Glory at half-staff unless there is a specific official proclamation to do so. Imagine what it would look like if millions of people were flying their flags at half-staff for their own reasons, no matter how good. It would take away the specialness that half-staff now brings. But thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag entangled on pole

A homeowner's flag is has been entangled with the lamp on top of the pole for two weeks now. They may be out of town. Reported to HOA no action yet. This has happened before. Once this instance is resolved what are the alternatives to curb such occuences/behavior?

Entanglements

The Editors's picture

Hi, Philip: Usually what happens in a case like this is that a concerned neighbor or someone from the HOA itself is proactive ahead of time and approaches the flag owner to say something like, “Your flag is so patriotic, but sometimes it gets wrapped around the lamp. You obviously don’t realize this, or else you would fix it if you were home. If you are away, would it be OK for us to untangle it?” Or: “Rather than have it possibly get torn while you are away, would you want to maybe take it down for that time? We just wanted to point this out in case you weren’t aware of it.” Thanks for asking!

Flag Respect

Is it disrespectful for the POTUS to wrap himself around a Flag on a Flagpole, preventing it from being seen. It looks like it was used to show his followers he loves the country which NO President should EVER feel the need to prove his Loyalty to the Country! Just curious it it's just me..

All Wrapped Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, Trish: Regardless of whether doing this might be disrespectful, It is perfectly OK to do so, as it is protected under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

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