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

Leave a Comment

Ready for Gaffs

The Editors's picture

Hi, Toni: Gaff rigging is almost a science unto itself, but suffice it to say that a gaff-rigged Old Glory is flown at the top of the gaff, which is the place of honor but may not be the highest point of the rigging, which is the masthead (where something else may be flown). Thanks for asking!

infusing an image with the flag

Is it okay to have the American flag segue into the battle flag of the North Virginia army (i.e. confederate flag) or the "don't tread on me" symbol flag?

Infusing

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jean: When this happens, Old Glory is no longer Old Glory but “flag art,” which is OK. Whether it is in good taste is another matter. Thanks for asking!

Flag quilts

Many people , myself includes, make quilts using the pattern of the flag. Is that appropriate?

Quilty As Charged

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cheryl: When you are doing this, Old Glory becomes “flag art,” which is totally OK and protected by Freedom of Speech. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag at half staff

When can the flag be flown at half staff?

Half-Staff

The Editors's picture

Hi, Warren: Mainly by declaration of the president or a governor, by custom, and on certain days. Search online for more specific info, please, and thanks for asking!

Mailing Flag

How would I properly mail an American Flag?

Mailed It

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alex: You would fold it into its proper triangular shape and then send it in a sturdy package that was protected from moisture. Thanks for asking!

Flag at chick-fil-a

Upon arriving at Chick-fil-A in Upland, CA, I noticed the flag about 2' from the top... not half mast and definitely not at the top. It looked like it haphazardly went up. I asked for the manager. I asked the manager if the flag was supposed to be at half mast. She didn't really understand my question and took a second and then said "no". I told her it should be raised to the top of the pole. She smirked (under her mask) and said "ok". She then turned to several of the other females standing there and they started laughing. I sat in my car and ate my food for half an hour and the flag was never raised all the way. I just found this very offensive and disrespectful and wanted to know if I was correct in the fact that it should be at the top.

Up and At 'Em

The Editors's picture

Hi, Pamela: Unless there is some physical constraint (e.g., knot in the halyard) that necessitates otherwise, Old Glory should always be flown at the top of the staff. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag pole height

The peak of my roof (single story) is 20’. I heard that the pole needs to be higher than the peak of the roof. Can I put up a 20’ flag pole or do I need to get a 25’ pole?

The (P)roof is in the Putting

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mike: There is nothing that says that Old Glory’s pole needs to be higher than the roof. Most people strive for this just because it may give Old Glory better visibility, but it is not necessary. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

American Flag Camper Awning

Hi,
We need to replace our camper awning and Amazon has an awning that has the American Flag on it. Is this a proper way to display the American Flag? The blue star area is on the left hand side as it would be if looking at the flag straight on.

(Y)awning Over This

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patti: This would no longer be considered Old Glory, but instead just a piece of “flag art.” Although there are many who would question the propriety of displaying the Stars and Stripes like this, it is perfectly OK to use such an awning. Thanks for asking!

Question

I have the display national flag, army flag, blue line flag, red line flag, flags are all same size and have their own staff, if I stand behind the national flag, rest of the flags would be on the right side of the national flag, would this be correct or do I need to switch flags?

A Lot of Lines

The Editors's picture

Hi, Anthony: If you are standing in front of the row of flags from the perspective of the point from which they would most likely be viewed by passersby or whoever, Old Glory would be on the left, then Army, then blue line and red line in whatever order you wished. If you were standing behind, obviously this would be reversed. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

USFlag code of etiquette

When the color of the US flag is changed (e.g. gray & white) with a thin blue line inserted within the stripes,is that not considered a desecration of he flag?

When Change Is Not What It Seems

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paul: When this is done, Old Glory changes from being Old Glory to being a piece of “flag art,” no longer representing our country, no longer subject to having allegiance pledged to it, and so forth. Thus, doing so is not really a desecration but a change of use. Whether making this change is in good taste is another matter entirely. Thanks for asking!

Color of flag pole in a HOA

Can u send a response on your letter head so I can summit it to my board. I know there is no color preference to the pole. Mine was peeling and I had extra blue paint from my Chevy engine that I was rebuilding. They said it was a political statement. I had alot of extra paint. I moved to Florida to getaway from woke people. Hope to hear from u. Thanks Bill

Colorful Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bill: We’re afraid we don’t do letters as responses here, but rest assured that blue is a perfectly good color for a U.S. flagpole, as is red, as is any other color you might wish, or even a combination. Feel free to show this to your board, good luck, and thanks for asking!

American flag/ gay pride flag

is it ok to fly the gay pride flag on the same flag pole as the American flag?

Pride

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kelly: Yes, this is OK as long as the LGBTQ flag is beneath Old Glory. Thanks for asking!

Half Mast

Is there anyplace where I can see when the flag should be flown at half mast?

Search Party

The Editors's picture

Hi, Michael: If you do an online search for “half-staff notifications” or “… alerts,” you will find a number of websites that provide this information. Be aware, though, that downloading a free service online often comes with ads or tracking or both. That being said, some of these sites do a good job of compiling/combining federal decrees with those of states and other relevant entities. Thanks for asking!

QUESTION REGARDING FLAG & FLAG POLE

Hi James, instinctively I would suggest it may depend on it's visibity; if its size is comparitively smaller then it might be ok.. Certainly if it affected the appearance of full-staff, then absolutely 'no'.

Thank you

The Editors's picture

Thanks for your input, Jimbo!

Question regarding flag & flag pole

Verizon wants to mount an antenna on the top of the flagpole which currently exists at the entry gate to our residential community. It would be above the flag and I believe this would be disrespectful. What are your thoughts. Thanks.

Taking a Pole

The Editors's picture

Hi, James: Our thoughts are that this would not be in very good taste. Thanks for asking!

Order of flags

When flying a state flag and a POW/MIA flag below the American flag, what is the correct order?

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