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!

2022_planner_spring_ad_1.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

other election related flags

Is it appropriate to fly election related flags on the same pole, under the American flag?

Appropriately Appropriate

The Editors's picture

Hi, Susan: Yes, it is, and thanks for asking!

Hand Salute

Is it proper to hold the American flag with the left hand and to render a normal hand salute with the right? I thought when holding the American flag, a hand salute was improper. What is the correct protocol for holding the American flag and action when a command to "present arms" is given?

Two Hands

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: It is not proper to hold with the left and salute with the right. The problem here lies in the fact that Old Glory should be held with two hands, including at the command “Present arms!” Thanks for asking!

American flag and political candidate flag

I'm assuming a political candidate's flag should never be flown with an American flag under any circumstances since it is a form of advertising. True, right?

Political

The Editors's picture

Hi, Stephen: It’s OK to fly other flags below Old Glory. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Battle flags

If a soldier is wounded badly in battle, can one of his fellow soldiers use the flag to bandage the wound?

My sister is taking an American Government class and wanted to know. She thinks he could, I think he couldn't.

Wounded

The Editors's picture

Hi, Abigail: Definitely yes, and no doubt it has been done countless times. In general terms, it is a soldier’s duty to protect Old Glory, in any condition, at all costs. If all soldiers expire, there is no one left on Earth to guard her, so every possible measure must be taken to retain protection, including soiling or damaging Old Glory herself. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask, and good luck to your sister!

Displaying flag

If I have a motivational program,can I fly or display as many American flags as I want or should I only display a single flag on the speaker's right?

And/Or

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rooster: Either way is fine. Thanks for asking!

Flaying the flag from a staff on the front of the house

So, as a retired Army Command Sergeant Major the National Colors (the US flag) were my responsibility. So I know the code well. My question is, can you fly the US flag horizontally from a staff attached to your garage or home. There are several in my neighborhood. Just does not seem correct or right. Thanks.

Horizontal

The Editors's picture

Hi, CSM Horvath: First of all, thank you so much for your dedicated service! We believe that you are referring to a staff that is at 90 degrees to the wall rather than mounted on it flat. In the case of the extending staff, Old Glory should not be mounted along her “fly” (length); she should always be attached along her “hoist” (width), such that the length of the flag is hanging down. Thanks for this great question!

Half Mast

If the Flag is to be flown at Half Mast, by Executive Order, and it is not physically able to. Is there an alternative method to show respect. ie. hang a black ribbon from the staff above the flag.

Ribboned

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ken: Yes, flying a black or dark purple ribbon or streamer from the top of the staff is certainly acceptable. Thanks for asking!

Flying more than one flag

I want to fly a flag from another country, along with the American flag. They will be on two separate poles on the front of the house. Does it matter which side the American flag is on? The holders have two positions, so must I fly the flag from the other country in a position lower than the American flag, or can they fly at the same height, but separate.

Another Country

The Editors's picture

Hi, Pamela: They can be at the same height as long as Old Glory is on the left as you face them. Thanks for asking!

Flag sizes

What size flag should be on the flag pole at a public building?

Tall Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, David: It depends on how tall the flagpole is. The ratio of Old Glory’s length or horizontal measure (known as the “fly”) to height or vertical measure (“hoist”) should be 1.9 to 1. The flag’s “fly” should be roughly one-quarter of the flagpole’s height. Thanks for asking!

Flying the flag upside down

Being that our great country is in such a mess these days would that be considered dire distress and constitute flying the flag upside down?

Direly Distressed?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michael: One of the great strengths of our great country is that each of us has the freedom to make our own determination as to what constitutes dire distress and to fly Old Glory accordingly. Thanks for asking!

flag on a plane

we frequently fly on c17s with essentially a shipping container in the cargo bay. If I am looking from the front of the plane to the back of the plane and have a flag draped vertically on the front of this container, should the blue side be to left or right. I have heard reasoning for both. Thanks

Real Flag Flying

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patriot: It would be on the upper left. Thanks for asking!

Military deployment flag

I have a son who is going to be deployed in the next couple of weeks. I'm looking for information about how to fly a deployment flag. I'm also looking for legislation information for direction as well as permission. Thanks you

Deployment Flag

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: Many thanks to your son for his service—how proud you must be! A deployment flag can be flown by itself. It can also be flown below Old Glory. While there probably is some technical regulation somewhere requiring permission to do so, in general practice, you can just fly it, unless you have local ordinances or homeowner’s association rules that say otherwise. Thanks for asking!

Showing grief if you only have a fixed-length flag pole (window)

Hello--some time ago, I have seen people attach a black streamer to the top of their flagpole (window or house mount) , to show grief of an important person. Is this consistent with the rules, or usage??

Streaming Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gene: Yes, it is. Thanks for asking!

Back the Blue

Is it ok to fly a Back the Blue flag (Grey with Blue Stripe) in support of law enforcement directly below the American Flag?

Back and Blue

The Editors's picture

Hi, Richard: Yes, it is, and thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

political flaggs

Is it OK to have a political Flagg (trump) flying on the same pole below the American Flagg? I always believed that our Flagg was non-political.

Above Political

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lawrence: This is OK. Whatever flies below Old Glory doesn’t change what she is. Thanks for asking!

Pages