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

height

should the flag be the highest object on property commercial or private

Higher Ups

The Editors's picture

Hi, GS: Not necessarily… but thanks for asking!

Solar light on flag

I bought a house with a telescoping flag pole that has a solar light at the top. The first year I flew it continuously. After noticing that the solar light does keep it lit well the whole night in the winter I no longer fly it during the winter. Since it is a telescoping pole and takes a lot of strength to raise it I am flying it continuously throughout the summer. Is this appropriate? I don’t want to do it wrong or offend anyone.

Summer Nights

The Editors's picture

Hi, Virginia: It sounds like you are at least trying to keep it lit at night during the summer, which is good enough for us! Thanks for asking!

Flag code

Is a flag-painted picnic table appropriate? (Got a bet; I'm sayin' "no.")

You Betcha—Not

The Editors's picture

Hi, James: Well … is it legal? Yes, thanks to Freedom of Speech. Is it “appropriate”? Well … thanks for asking!

Flag Ban

I am a prior active duty airmen. I want to fly our nations flag, but the condominium bylaws prevent the displaying any decoration. I would like to know if there is any law protecting the flying of the flag.

Decoration?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Nathan: Thank you very much for your service! As you have since discovered yourself, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act does prohibit homeowners and condo associations from banning the flying of Old Glory. Thanks for your research and thanks for asking!

City of Yakima Displaying the U S Flag next to the LGBTQ Flag

Our city is being run by weak tits who take their instructions for the minority groups of the city. I wrote a letter to the council and basically was reprimanded for critiquing them. The flag is on a City building and I find it to be totally improper.

American flag at half-staff

Hello: I have a neighbor who has been flying his American flag at half-staff on a daily basis as a way of protesting what he believes is the fraudulent election of Joseph Biden in the 2020 election. Is this just inappropriate or would it count as desecration of the flag? Gay Kelly-Leh

Desecration?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gay: Old Glory should be flown at half-staff only upon the order of the president, the governor, and a few other entities, as well as according to custom in a few instances. She should not be flown at half-staff otherwise, but this does not mean that it is wrong or illegal or unpermitted for someone to do so. Ironically, the very Freedom of Speech that Old Glory stands for allows anyone to do virtually anything they want with her. Thus, when we see her being flown incorrectly, we refuse to get upset and instead take solace and comfort in knowing that this is exactly what she stands for. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask! 

Alterations

Is it appropriate to make alterations to the American flag for various causes/movements. For example, the blue lives matter flags or an LGBTQ flag.
Thanks!

Appropriate?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kaydee: Such alterations are permitted by Freedom of Speech, but once they happen, Old Glory ceases being the U.S. flag and instead becomes “flag art.” Whether doing such things to our beloved flag is appropriate or in good taste is another matter. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flying other fags with Old Gory

Our city hall has three staffs on the building, US Flag, POW/MIA Flag and Washington state flag. The city has hung a gay pride flag under the U S Flag on it's staff. Shouldn't be under the Washington flag. A proud veteran. Eugene Hazen

Veteran Flag Watcher

The Editors's picture

Hi, Eugene: First of all, thank you so much for your service! It is OK for the Gay Pride flag to be under Old Glory. It could be under Washington state. It could be above or below POW/MIA, simply because the latter is not a government in jurisdiction. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag at half staff

I've read two stories. In 1612 a British expedition to Canada lowered their flag enough to make room for the flag of death when George Washington died. U.S flag code states that the flag should be lowered halfway down the staff/mast. Question: what part of the flag should be half way down the staff; the top part, middle or the bottom of it? I'm assuming the bottom portion so no part of the flag is below the 1/2 way mark. Also, If the flag flies day and night should we then lower it, raise it with pride and lower it to half staff with dignity? Nice to know there is someone like yourself to answer questions!!! Thanks

Hysterical Historical

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tony: It seems as though you have mixed up a couple of occurrences, which is perfectly understandable. In 1612, a British ship returned home with its captain dead, so it flew the Union Jack at half-mast, with the “death flag” above it—but the death flag is just imaginary, an empty space on the mast. Two hundred years later, when George Washington died in 1799, the British Channel Fleet lowered their flags to half-mast out of respect. With regard to your questions, it is the top part of the flag that should be at half-staff. As far as lowering Old Glory goes, regardless of time of day, when at half-staff she should be always be returned to full-staff before being lowered all the way to be removed. Similarly, she should be raised all the way to full-staff before being lowered to fly at half-staff. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag on wall below pride flag

I don’t see instructions in “displaying America Flag” flat on the side of a building. If displaying it on flat on the side of a building is it ok to display any other flag above the American Flag? Also, is displaying the Flag flat, is this considered a Flag or a banner? If it is a banner do the rules of etiquette apply to banners?
Anxiously awaiting for your response!

Up Against the Wall

The Editors's picture

Hi, Danny: There really shouldn’t be another flag mounted on a wall above Old Glory. We’re not really sure what you mean by flag vs. banner. Old Glory mounted flat is still Old Glory the flag. Thanks for asking!

Handling of the flag

If you have a flag that is attached to a pole and hangs by a bracket from the house and you are taking it down for the evening, is it disrespectful if when you come inside, you get sidetracked and stop and lay it across the desk, before you put it away? I was just wondering since I've just read that the flag isn't supposed to touch anything below it. And also, the flag is supposed to fly freely!

Handling a Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gretchen: Yes, Old Glory is supposed to fly freely. With regard to handling it, it’s the thought that counts, and if it touches the ground or when not folded properly touches some other surface or whatever, we have to assume that no harm was intended or done–and we’ll certainly never tell. Think of the zillions of times service members have needed to temporarily mistreat Old Glory during the course of battle. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

American Flag Respect

Is it proper for any flag that represents marksism or, communism to share the same flag pole as "Old Glory" ?????? Personally, I think it is a disgrace !

Flying Free

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rob: Yes, it is, as long as Old Glory is at the top. Actually, Old Glory stands for our beloved Freedom of Speech that allows them to be flown like that. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

FLAGS ON TREES

I have neighbors who have mounted their flags on trees using the poles normally used to mount flags on houses. Is this appropriate? I thought a flag should be hung like this from a permanent structure (?).

Up a Tree

The Editors's picture

Hi, Renee: It is perfectly OK to do what you describe. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag placement

What side of an entrance door should the flag be hung? Example: entrance to a home on the front porch

Porched

The Editors's picture

Hi, Theresa: As viewed from the street, Old Glory would be to the left of the front door. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag flown at half mast

Who has the privilege to order the flag flown at half staff? A Mayor...governor.....military officers. Which public officials?

More Half-Staff

The Editors's picture

Hi, Richard: President, governors, occasionally Congress by custom. Thanks for asking!

Height of American flag

When American flag is flown on a gaff rigged nautical pole, where is American flag placed?

Pages