U.S. Flag Code: Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

September 13, 2021
American Flag Flowing
Pixabay

Wondering how to display the American flag? 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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multiple countries flag

Is it acceptable to fly a US flag above an Israeli flag on the same pole?

multiple countries flag

Is it acceptable to fly a US flag above an Israeli flag on the same pole?

Replacement flags

How many flags should you keep in reserve in case you displayed flag needs to be replaced?

Reserved

The Editors's picture

Hi, David: This would depend on many things, but the default answer is one. Thanks for asking!

display on uniform

Why is the flag worn backward on uniform shoulder.

When Backward Is Forward

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lee: Backward flag patches on (only) the right sleeve/shoulder are meant to represent how Old Glory would look if she were being buffeted by the breeze while being carried by the wearer when charging into battle or to whatever the emergency was. Thanks for asking!

Patriotism

In fifth and sixth grade I was the Flag Monitor and living in Southern CA I frequently had to take the flag down in high winds. I was also a Guidon Bearer for my Company in Navy Boot Camp in San Diego. I get so irritated when people think they are being Patriotic and they drive around with a flag on their car. That is NOT respectful to the Colors. I also see flags that are abused on ships/boats that are shredded and their ignorance of the flag is an insult to all Veterans. Learn how to represent the Country and those who fought defending the flag before you even buy one. This World has lost the common courtesy and consideration of our fellow human. Every one of us is important. Act like it and Wise Up and Rise Up for God and the true Country. Blessings, Paul M, Minister, Veteran, Father, Husband, Brother and Soldier in the Army of the Living God

Flag display etiquette

I want to display USFlag and Vietnam Flag on telephone pole what is proper? Thank you

Taking a Pole

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jo Ann: Old Glory would go on top, but you would want to first make sure that you had the utility company’s permission to use their pole, as well as make sure that there were no local ordinances prohibiting doing so. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag at night

My neighbor never takes down the flag. At night thete is no light on it either. I feel this is disrespectful. How should this be handled?

Handling Things

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tandra: If your neighbor’s flag is all-weather, it’s perfectly OK to leave it up during the daytime, even in bad weather. But you’re right: It really should be lit at night. Perhaps not doing so is disrespectful. Perhaps your neighbors don’t realize that it should be lit at night. Perhaps this is the best that these people can do under the circumstances, and it’s always important to remember that it’s the thought that counts. One way to handle this that has proven successful over the years all across the country is to ask your local American Legion, VFW, or other veterans or service organization for help. Often they will step in as a service project. You tell them about the situation, and then they send a delegation to politely say something like, “You know, we’ve noticed how you’re so patriotic in flying Old Glory night and day. Would you allow us to help you put up a light for her?” Sometimes the owner has no clue that the flag should be lit. Sometimes they’re so grateful for the help, or at least the push. Sometimes they just say no. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag on a building

When a flag is hung on a building, it it to be the only flag in a ceremony?

Building an Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Becky: Not necessarily, but thanks for asking!

Lowering both American and Oklahoma flags

Hello,

I am a security guard and one of my responsibilities is to lower and raise the American and state flags. Well today I was lowering both flags in honor of fallen firefighters and I know that the state flag is not to be flown above the American flag, but when I started to lower the flags I lowered the American flag first and my co-worker corrected me and told me I was doing it wrong. I explained to him that I knew the American flag was to be flown above the state flag and that I was simply lowering the American flag first. Was I wrong in lowering the American flag first even though when I was done the American flag was above the state flag? I tried researching it and failed to find anything stating you have to lower the state flag first?

Order of Half-Staff

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joshua: From a technical standpoint, your coworker was correct. Old Glory should always be first to raised and last to be lowered to any level. Think of it as sort of first to lead the charge onto the battlefield and last to leave the fight, not that this is a fight, of course. Keep up the great work! Thank you for being so patriotic to do the research and ask the question, and thanks to your coworker for caring so much to point this out!

Black flag too?

Is it appropriate to fly the black flag as well as Old Glory at the same time?

Black Flag

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nicole: If you are referring to the POW/MIA flag, yes, it is, as long as Old Glory is on top. If you are referring to just a plain black flag, the symbol of “No quarter will be given” (opposite of “We surrender”), the same holds true. In fact, however, there is no official law whatsoever regarding flying flags of any color or design above or below Old Glory. That’s the glory of Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

tattered flag

What is protocol when to replace a faded and frayed American Flag?
The flag in our gated community is showing signs of wear and I'm trying to get it replaced.
Is there any type of "law" that forbids flying a flag in this condition? Its starting to really bug me now! Thanks for your expertise.

All Worn Out

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rick: There is no law prohibiting the flying of a bedraggled Old Glory, but perhaps good sense and patriotism might otherwise suffice to discourage the practice. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Upside down Flag?

Can I legally flag the American Flag upside down at my single family home. I truly believe this Country is to distress. Is there any law saying I can not?
God Bless America!

The Down Side of Upside Down

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ann: There is no such prohibitive law, but you should be aware that flying Old Glory upside down in the absence of an extreme emergency requiring help or rescue is really like crying, “Wolf!” Usually this is done by lost hikers or sinking ships or the like. If you do fly her upside down, you should be prepared for law enforcement or even Good Samaritans coming to check to see if you are OK. Thanks for asking!

US flag flown on the same pole as thge Texas flag.

When flying the US flag and the Texas flag i know the US flag is flown at the top. I need to know how far down from the US flag the Texas flag should or could be flown respectively.

Spaced Out

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tim: This really depends on the scale of things, i.e., the sizes of the flags, but 6 to 12 inches should usually do it. Thanks for asking?

Flag

If I'm displaying a American flag on the back of my motorcycle and a trump 2024 flag on the back also and looking at it from the vehicle behind me the American flag should be on the left are you saying

Bikin'

The Editors's picture

Hi, Louis: No, Old Glory would be on the right. Thanks for asking!

American Flag

Can you wash the American Flag?

It All Comes Out in the Wash

The Editors's picture

Hi, Leonard: You certainly may! Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Displaying the flag behind glass

Is it disrespectful to frame the American Flag and hung on the wall inside our building?

Full Speed Ahead

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rick: It’s perfectly fine to do this. Thanks for asking!

How long should flags be kept at half-staff?

Just recently, 13 US soldiers were killed Aug. 26, 2021 in Afghanistan in an attack by the Taliban near the airport in Kabul. Flags have been flown at half-staff in the wake of that attack but how long should they be kept at half-staff before being returned to full-staff?
Thanks.

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