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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Fallen soldiers

I would Like to display 13 US Flags; they would be the stick ones. How do I properly Do this? Do they have to have lights on them at night?

13 Flags

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kym: You could do this in any way that you choose: rows (say, 4-5-4), line, or circle. Yes, they should be either lit or (easier) taken in at night, but we’ll never tell if they’re not. Thanks for being so patriotic to do this and to ask!

Black Flag

Is it proper to display a solid black US Flag, as seen on online?

Blacklisted

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michael: There is nothing wrong with doing so, but then again such a thing is not Old Glory but just a piece of “flag art.” Thanks for asking!

Flag

I have seen a flag with a profanity directed at our president flying on a pole below the US flag. Is this an actual code violation, or a blatant disrespect of our government?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mary: It is perfectly OK to do what you describe, which is protected by Freedom of Speech. We always try to suggest that rather than be bothered by such things, if people are, it is often better to think of them as being something good, not bad—as being living, “breathing” reminders of the great freedoms for which Old Glory stands. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Etiquette for taking flag down from pole by one individual

Is there a proper way for an individual person to take down an elementary school flag by themself? Draping over shoulders keeps it off the ground but may not look respectful enough to neighbors.

Being Neighborly

The Editors's picture

Hi, Corey: As you probably know, the correct way to fold Old Glory renders her into a triangular shape. However, sometimes it is necessary to temporarily fold her into a square or rectangle if a solo folder would have trouble making the triangle or there are other extenuating circumstances such as the weather or a need for speed. The way to do this is to gather all four corners one at a time in one hand as the flag is detached from the halyard and then temporarily fold them into a square or rectangle for carrying to temporary storage. All this being said, if draping her over your shoulders temporarily works for you, it works for us. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask, and if the neighbors give you any trouble, just let us know! :)

multiple flags

I often fly the Navy flag beneath my US. If I want to honor a person visiting from another nation, does it go above or below my Navy? Thanks.

Aye, Aye

The Editors's picture

Hi, Peter: The other national flag would go above your Navy one. Thanks for asking and for flying all three!

Proper position of old glory

Positioning of the POW flag and the new Freedom Flag(to be flown on 911 Memorial Day) on same pole as Old Glory. ie, which is higher, POW or Freedom Flag

Higher POW-er

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paul: Technically, either one, but since POW has been around longer, it might make sense for that to be higher. Thanks for asking!

Flag Storage at Night

I am putting up a flag pole at home for the first time. I was very unaware of flag etiquette and traditions until finding this website. How is the flag properly stored at night after it is taken down? Is it important to not fly the flag while I am not home if the weather may be inclement (which is just about everyday in Florida)?

Thanks

First-Timer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeff: If Old Glory cannot be lit at night, she should be taken down, folded in the proper manner into a triangle with (about) three stars showing, and stored in safe place that is clean and protected from the elements. There’s nothing wrong with a shelf in the house or garage, for example. If your flag is not all-weather, then yes, you should take it down in anticipation of inclement weather if you will not be there to do so at the time of its arrival. But many flags these days are indeed all-weather, so check out your own first before worrying about this. Thank you for doing your homework and thank you for being so patriotic to ask these questions! Oh … and congratulations on your new setup!

FLAG

Is it proper for the Olimpic Atleaths to drape themselves with the American flag??

Draping

The Editors's picture

Hi, Duke: It’s not technically proper, but we will forgive them! Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Funeral flag

Is it proper to fly a flag that was presented to a deceased veteran’s next of kin?

Casket Flag

The Editors's picture

If you are referring to the casket flat, there are no provisions in the Flag Code to suggest otherwise. It would be a fitting tribute to the memory of the deceased veteran and his or her service to a grateful nation if the flag is displayed.

Flag wear

How do I know if my American flag is too worn to be displayed?

Frayed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kathleen: In general, Old Glory needs to be retired if she has hole(s) and/or unrepaired edge frays/tears (or even just one big one) and/or is noticeably faded. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

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!

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