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!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Big-Hearted

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lawrence: Your big heart is certainly in the right place, but it is not a good idea to fly Old Glory at half-staff unless there is a specific official proclamation to do so. Imagine what it would look like if millions of people were flying their flags at half-staff for their own reasons, no matter how good. It would take away the specialness that half-staff now brings. But thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag entangled on pole

A homeowner's flag is has been entangled with the lamp on top of the pole for two weeks now. They may be out of town. Reported to HOA no action yet. This has happened before. Once this instance is resolved what are the alternatives to curb such occuences/behavior?

Entanglements

The Editors's picture

Hi, Philip: Usually what happens in a case like this is that a concerned neighbor or someone from the HOA itself is proactive ahead of time and approaches the flag owner to say something like, “Your flag is so patriotic, but sometimes it gets wrapped around the lamp. You obviously don’t realize this, or else you would fix it if you were home. If you are away, would it be OK for us to untangle it?” Or: “Rather than have it possibly get torn while you are away, would you want to maybe take it down for that time? We just wanted to point this out in case you weren’t aware of it.” Thanks for asking!

Flag Respect

Is it disrespectful for the POTUS to wrap himself around a Flag on a Flagpole, preventing it from being seen. It looks like it was used to show his followers he loves the country which NO President should EVER feel the need to prove his Loyalty to the Country! Just curious it it's just me..

All Wrapped Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, Trish: Regardless of whether doing this might be disrespectful, It is perfectly OK to do so, as it is protected under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Dire Distress

Would it be considered disrespectful to fly my flag with the union down for the next four years?.
I'm 60 year old combat veteran who can't imagine us goin through a more stress full time for our Democracy. The people we protect have no clue what socialism is. The people who managed to get elected in 2020 will erode our freedoms. Today Biden will swear an oath before God and America to support and defend the constitution of the United States.

A Question of Respect

The Editors's picture

Hi, Les: Yes, by most standards doing so would be considered disrespectful. That being said, Old Glory herself stands for Freedom of Speech and your right to display her however you would like. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

American flag on the roof of the white house

Why would the American flag be removed from the roof of the white house on D.C.?

Removal

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tim: It’s not really good to speculate, but often flags are replaced during changes of any administration (federal, state, city, etc.) so that the previous one(s) can be kept as historical mementos. Thanks for asking!

My flag

I was wanting to know I have a 25 ft flag pole and I had lights they went out so I now have one that goes on top and lights down but it doesn't light the whole flag when wind is blowing but it does light stars good and maybe half of the flag is that ok or do I need to change lights to something more o and it's at my house in yard I am not a business

Night Light

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jesse: It really would be best if Old Glory were fully lit, but you’re doing the best you can and we’ll never tell. Thank you for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag protocol at the White House

Presidential Proclamation has the flag flying 24/7 cover the White House - when would the flag NOT be flying over the White House?

White House Flag

The Editors's picture

Hi, Garrett: Prior to presidential proclamations over the years regarding the White House and other places, theoretically Old Glory could have been taken down at night if not lit. What such proclamations really do, then, is require that there be lighting so that Old Glory can fly 24/7. So, assuming that this Old Glory is all-weather and can fly under any conditions, it would NOT be flying over the White House if it were nighttime and it was unlit. Hence the proclamation’s real effect of requiring lighting. Thanks for asking!

Flag Etiquette

Is it permissible to have a Covid mask depicting the American flag?

Masked Problem

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: It is permissible, but then it is no longer Old Glory but “flag art.” Whether it is in good taste is another matter, although it is always important to remember that sometimes it’s the thought that counts. Thanks for asking!

Non American flags

What are the rules on displaying non American flags at government buildings or at an event such as protesting?

Nothing Special

The Editors's picture

Hi, P: There are no special rules in these cases. Thanks for asking!

Betsy Ross 13 Star Colonial Flag

Is it allowed to fly the Betsy Ross 13 Star Colnial Flag

Bet on Betsy

The Editors's picture

Hi, David: It is fine to fly the 13-star flag, although it’s important to realize that it has become a historical item and not the true current Old Glory. It would not be proper to do the Pledge of Allegiance to Betsy, for example, as she represents the past, not the present. Thanks for asking!

Polictical flags

How long can political flags be flown? & is it proper to fly under the us flag on same pole?

Political for How Long?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Diane: There is no time limit on political flags and yes, it is OK to fly them beneath Old Glory. Thanks for asking!

torn flag

when a U.S. flag becomes torn/tattered is it still proper to fly it?
or a what point should a torn flag be lower and retired?

Prepare to Repair

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ron: No, it is not proper to fly a tattered Old Glory, which should be retired once it can no longer be tastefully and securely repaired. Thanks for asking!

Flag

Can you wash or clean a flag?

Washout

The Editors's picture

Hi, Wally: Most certainly! Thanks for asking!

Size of flags on same halyard?

When presenting a State flag below the U.S. flag on the same halyard, is there any protocol as to size of the flag. Should the State flag be smaller in size?

Stated Size

The Editors's picture

Hi, Char: The state flag should be equal in size or smaller. Thanks for asking!

Flag use

Is it proper to alter the colors. For example a black and white striped, black background for the stars, and a blue line on the 10th stripe or for that matter any of the stripes.

Altered Reality

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ched: It is OK to alter the colors (protected by Freedom of Speech), but once you do, Old Glory is no longer Old Glory, but just a piece of “flag art.” Thanks for asking!

Flagpole emblem etiquette

I don’t think that many people know this, but there is a flagpole emblem etiquette.
When I worked for the Air Force several years ago I remember instructions coming down about the emblems on top of the flagpoles. We were instructed to remove any that were not the spearhead type because those were the only ones approved for military and government. The ball ones are for business and private use and the eagle ones are reserved for the President of the United States. And should be used whenever he is present.

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