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!

2022_planner_spring_ad_1.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Placement of flags on table top flag stand

Our DAR chapter has a flag stand that displays the American flag, the IL State flag and our DAR flag all together The American flag goes in the center and stands straight up The other 2 flags sit at angles from the center of the holder making them lower than the tip of the American flag but...
I AM WONDERING ON WHICH SIDE OF THE AMERICAN FLAG SHOULD BE PLACED THE STATE FLAG AND WHICH SIDE SHOULD THE DAR ORGANIZATION FLAG BE PLACED (FROM THE AUDIENCE'S VIEW POINT)
Thank you for any guidance
Marcia Hitchins

Left Out

The Editors's picture

Hi, Marcia: As you face the flag stand, the state flag would be on the left. Thanks for asking!

General flag etiquette

What a great service you provide here! I’m reading through all of the old Q&As and learning so much. A couple of questions about previous answers just to clarify for me. Flag Art seems to be very acceptable in most forms. But I grew up with a real flag pole and a retired Air Force Dad, who was strict with proper flag etiquette. He must have Interpreted the word “costume” to be any article of clothing because we were never allowed to wear flags on our shirts or any clothing. Does costume literally mean costumes (like Halloween)? Also never allowed to have a flag on a sticker or a poster or any decor item or anything other than a real flag. You previously explained flag art so that has either been relaxed over the years or maybe was always acceptable. He also never allowed us to play with our flag, drape it over our shoulders, hug it or just be silly with it. He taught us to always be highly respectable with it. I also love the displays around holidays of rows and rows of small flags lined up by the curb left up for about a week. But I’ve always worried that they’re not Illuminated at night. Isn’t that a problem. Also my daughter has a flag off their porch that isn’t specifically lit although they keep their porch light on all night. The flag is still kind of in the dark. Is that ok? Thanks again for the great info!

Every Day in America

The Editors's picture

Hi, Debbie: Well, first of all, supreme thanks to your dad not only for his service but also for his efforts to bring you up in the “right” way. He sounds like a patriot of patriots. At the end of the day, the U.S. Flag Code is advisory, not an actual law with penalties for violation. Hence much of what your dad and millions of other people take to be regulatory statute is actually just tradition, which is unenforceable. It is ironic that the very freedoms for which Old Glory stands are the same ones that allow her to be disrespected, whether intentionally or otherwise. This is why we often tell folks to see flag etiquette transgressions (of which there are millions even as we write this) not as horrible evils but as true testaments to Old Glory and the freedoms she represents. All of the things that your father taught you were and are correct under traditional Old Glory values: not on “costumes” or clothes (doesn’t really matter what you call them, and uniforms are the exception, of course); not on stickers, posters, and the like; no playing around with her. However, all of these things are perfectly legal and protected. Also, it is important to remember that most folks are just doing the best they can to honor our country. If you talk to people from other nations, almost all are amazed at all the Old Glories being flown everywhere all the time—from poles, houses, businesses, everywhere. They think it is a holiday, but, no, it is just Every Day in America. When we see all these flags and flags on clothes and stickers and barns and everywhere else, it’s important to remember that many folks don’t have the knowledge to know that what they are doing is “wrong.” Or maybe they don’t have the means to do otherwise. Or the time. Or the energy. Or whatever. They are just trying to do their patriotic best to honor America in their own way, which is why we never come down on them. Rows of flags left up for a week and dimly lit or unlit flags fall into this category. We always say that flying Old Glory in some way is better than not flying Old Glory at all. Most folks are just trying to do the best they can, and may God bless their patriotic hearts for making the effort. And thanks for asking!

American Flag

Can the flag be on a small pole beside the mail box. ?

Small But Mighty

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mark: It most certainly may! Thanks for asking!

Small flags on grass

Our town of Trophy Club TX puts flags on every yard in town during for 3 days to celebrate the 4th of July which I absolutely LOVE. The flags are on a stick that is placed into the grass between the sidewalk and road. It is a beautiful site to drive through town and see this display. Is this display ok? I certainly hope so!

Real Trophies

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patty: It most certainly is! Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

American Flag Protocol

Is wearing a shirt with the Flag colors and stripes against Flag protocol?

Shirt Tale

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lisa: It would be considered “flag art,” which is protected by Freedom of Speech, so it would be OK. Thanks for asking!

U.S.Flag display

If the US Flag is lowered to half staff should flags adjacent to the U.S. Flag be lowered below the U.S. Flag or removed from their poles all together?

All Together Now

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mark: Either one of those actions is appropriate, although just lowering the others is usually preferred. Thanks for asking!

Representation of the flag

Is it ok to paint a perfect image of the flag on a board that is then used to play corn hole game with.

Game On

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bernadine: Yes, this is OK because it is protected by Freedom of Speech and the image is “flag art.” Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Pulley side

Should the flag be attached to the rope on the inboard rope (closest to flagpole) or the outboard side of rope?

Question That's Out There

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeff: Thanks for this great question! Old Glory should be flown from the outermost halyard. Thanks again for asking!

Printed flag on clothing

I love my flag so I have clothes with the American flag printed on it and wear for the 4th of July etc. Someone is telling me it’s not legal to have clothing with the flag on it. Just wondering what the code is on this.

Legal Threads

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kim: It is legal to have “flag art” on clothing and other items, a right protected by Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Tattered flag being flown

I know the rules on what to do when a flag is badly tattered, but do you take it down right away when you notice it is in bad shape and leave it off the flag pole until a new flag can be purchased, which could take several days. Or do you leave the tattered flag hanging until a replacement flag is purchased?

Tattered

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nancy: Once Old Glory crosses that invisible line into what you personally consider to be a condition of unacceptably bad tatterdemalion, it’s time for her to come down, even if this means having a temporarily barren flag pole. Thanks for asking!

Reflag Ban

I am glad to get your response, but I feel the need to correct it. I have discover there is protection for the flying of Old Glory. Under the freedom to display the American Flag act of 2005. Just thought I would share the information since I got it else where. I was guided to the by NOLO.com

Protecting the Flag

The Editors's picture

Hi, again, Nathan: You are correct. We’re afraid we had a temporary (we hope) Old Farmer’s brain freeze in slightly misinterpreting your original question. We have updated the original answer. Thank you for following through, and thanks for commenting!

The Flag

Is it okay to repair the flag and rehang it?

Repair Job

The Editors's picture

Hi, Irene: It most certainly is! Thanks for asking!

Flags

I thought that the only flag that can legally be flown under the flag was the POW & MIA flag so am I wrong?

Under Flown

The Editors's picture

Hi, Samuel: You are incorrect but very patriotic for inquiring… thanks for asking!

Displaying Flag Indoors

My Rotary club displays a flag at its meetings (and recites the pledge), but some members feel we need to figure out a different way to display it. Currently, it is on a staff mounted in heavy stand, and that stand sits on a table because if we put in both sections of the pole it is to tall to sit on the floor of our meeting space. The members who object don't like the way it hangs and it partially draped over the table. I actually like it better that way than just hanging limply from a pole, but I can't seem to find any particular guidance on that issue. Rest assured, the members of our club want to do what is right. Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide.

Doing What Is Right

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dale: We are very familiar with Rotary and especially Rotary Youth Exchange, so we have no doubt that you are reciting the Pledge and want to do it right. It sounds as though you are doing the best you can under the circumstances, and indeed what you are doing is perfectly OK. It is true, though, that Old Glory, when on a staff, should fly freely, so your anti-drapers have at least some standing. You have probably already considered the same solutions that we would. You could buy or make (by cutting down a section, if it is wood) a new staff that would fit in the room. You could place something under the heavy stand to lift the flag off the table (assuming that there is room above the current staff). You could mount the flag flat on a wall, either horizontally or vertically. All in all, though, you would be perfectly fine just to stick with what you have and try to get the stand as close to the table edge as possible in order to minimize the draping effect. As with many Old Glory situations, it’s often the thought that counts. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Proper etiquette for bystanders

When a flag is being presented and is moved from one location to another should one always face towards the flag, as in standing in place pivot so always facing the flag as it moves?

Moving Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Eric: This is a complicated question that somewhat depends on the nature and place of presentation, but the bottom-line answer is no. For example, if Old Glory were being brought forward through a crowded auditorium, you would not expect those in the front row to turn around and face completely backward at the start, with the audience sort of acting like a sunflower following the Sun to the front. On the other hand, with a much smaller group it might be more comfortable and natural, in the same way that some guests at a wedding will turn to follow the wedding party’s procession to the front. A third way is for everyone to turn only 90° to the aisle and then return to front as Old Glory passes them. In short, as long as you’re respectful, there are a number of ways that work. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Pages