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

U.S., State and FD flag display.

Hi guys,
We have three poles at our firehouse, the one in the center is taller than the others and has the U.S. Flag. We also have the NH state flag and a Fire Department flag. We know the U.S. Flag goes in the center, higher than the others. What's the display etiquette for the other two?

Fired Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jonathan: You would have the NH flag on the left as you faced them from the most common viewing angle. Thanks for asking and for serving!

Proper display of the American Flag

Is it proper to display an American flag with someone’s name printed on it?

Name Dropping

The Editors's picture

Hi, Doug: Is it proper? Yes, technically—but then the flag is no longer Old Glory and deserving of her honors, such as being pledged to. It’s even OK to have your name on it. But whether any of this is in good taste is another matter, for sure. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Half-staff

Can communities, not on federal or state property, fly the flag at half-staff to honor deceased veterans or to honor others as the community sees fit?

Community Think

The Editors's picture

Hi, Bruce: No. Flying Old Glory at half-staff really should be done only according to official decree. You can imagine that if every community, group, or even person started flying her at half-staff every time they felt it appropriate (which it might well be, to them), then soon there would be millions of flags flying at half-staff every day, and the true meaning for special larger remembrances would be lost. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Blue line flag

Why is nothing done about this new blue line flag use across America used by law enforcement agencies?? This is a desecration to the flag and a symbol of segregation from the public.

The Blue Line Blues

The Editors's picture

Hi, Good Cit: Such flags are OK because they stop being Old Glory and start being “flag art,” but we don’t have the answer about why nothing is done about it. It’s important to remember, though, that even in matters of Old Glory, it’s the thought that counts. Thanks for asking!

flag blanket

I noticed that there is a new Trumpy Bear for sale that has a flag blanket with it. I always thought that was not proper. Can you comment? Thanks

Grumpy Bear

The Editors's picture

Hi, Connie: All about all we can say is that unfortunately there are many things in life that seem improper… such as this. However, this is what is known as “flag art,” so it’s officially OK. Thanks for commenting!

Proper Flag etiquette

Hi, My name is Mark i have three flags i want to proudly display! First and for most is the United States Flag @ 3'x5'! Second being Britain's flag @2'x3', because my Dad came from Britain; the third is from Italy @2'x3',because my mom came from Italy! Currently i Have our United States flag on a Pole out in center of front yard Question! How or in what manner or arrangement can i display all three? Must i have Three Flag poles? is it possible i can place the two on smaller flags from Britain and Italy on the house and if so do i then need to get a USA flag @2'x3' on house as-well?(leaving The Larger United States Flag on the pole that's all ready there!) What are my options? Thank you for any info on this. Mark J.

Multinational Options

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mark: You do not need to have three flagpoles. If the pole is tall enough, one option would be to fly the other two beneath Old Glory, in whichever order you choose. Another option would be to keep Old Glory where she is and mount the other two on the house side by side; again, the order wouldn’t matter. Thanks for asking!

American flag on a pole same heighth as Mexican flag on a pole

There is a pair of poles near my home where there are two flagpoles. one has the American flag, and one has the Mexican flag The two poles are about 10 feet apart, and the Mexican flat is on the right of the American flag as viewed from the road. Is this a violation of the law, and what should I do about it?

Nix on the Switch

The Editors's picture

Hi, Leonard: If Old Glory is on the left when viewed from the road, that’s just fine and dandy. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag in display

I'm trying to find out how, where, can I obtain a triangle Display of a induvial flag, they are often passed onto the survivor of the relationship, a husband, or military individual

Just in Case

The Editors's picture

Hi, Duane John: If you search online for “flag display case,” you’ll find plenty. Thanks for asking!

Is Dec. 7th a day to fly our flag half-staff?

Flying our flag 1/2 staff on Dec 7?

Pearl Harbor

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: Yes, this is customary… thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

American flag flying with 18 state flags

We live in an airpark on a mountain in AR. At the base of a hill we have an American flag with 9 state flags going up each side of the hill. At the top of the hill is the runway for 2A2. Do all the flags have to be lowered when the American flag is at half-mast?

Hill-Mast

The Editors's picture

Hi, Carol: Yes, they really should be… thanks for asking!

flag at half staff

I am under impression it is only flown upon dignitaries death, and then only for a limited time.
Can you please enlighten me?
I think to have flag continually displayed half staff is disrespectful!
Thank you for getting back to me on this issue!

Disrespectul Displays

The Editors's picture

Hi, Virginia: Yes, periods for flying Old Glory at half-staff have finite limits (that vary). One exception is Arlington National Cemetery, where she is at half-staff permanently on every weekday. Thanks for asking!

Flag

I was wondering about displaying the flag on a wall. I have previously mounted it by pushing tacs through it to hang it on the wall, I was wondering if this is not something to do since the tac is putting a minor puncture in the flag. And if this is incorrect what would you do to hang it up inside in a proper way.

Wall Mount

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: From a highly technical standpoint, the way to mount Old Glory on a wall is for her to have a sleeve (such as you would slide onto a staff) on her top edge (“fly”) or union-side edge (“hoist”). Then you would slide a staff or short pole through the sleeve and mount the staff, not the flag, to the wall. But this is the real world, and you want to get her up there, so tacks or brads are OK in a pinch, in the minimum number needed for a secure mount. As we always say, it’s better to fly Old Glory a little bit incorrectly than not at all. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Hello, I have a few questions

Hello, I have a few questions and this seems like the perfect place to have them answered.
~ If you are looking at my house from the street, the garage is the farthest thing on right less a foot of siding for a light. In my readings above am I correct in it being fine on the left side of the garage from the street as it could get caught up and damaged only having a foot on the right. Is my thought process correct in since it is my house and you would assume I'm in my house thats the proper place for it. I also have a peek does that play into it too? Is it really suppose to be in the highest point of the furthest "right" from the street peak?
~My flag is blowing up onto my roof causing it to get damaged i was looking into weights or that rod that holds it down, (I'm not sure) and that is how I came upon this site. You say the flag should be flown freely so I would assume weights or that pole thing to keep it down I found on Amazon is frowned upon? That being said and what I have learned, I'm going to go out on a limb and say when I take the flag down due to weather or what not and I roll the flag around the pole leaning it just inside the garage, will never happen again...correct?
~Lastly I just retired my old Perma-Nyl and upgraded to a bigger 3"x5" Nylon with polyester stars. I put it on the same pole never thinking it could be too big, but if i was to touch the pole to the ground the flag now would touch also. Do I need a bigger pole?
Thank you so much for whatever help you give me. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Weighty Questions

The Editors's picture

Hi, Caitlin: Thank you for these excellent questions. We hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, as did we. Despite everything that is going on these days, even the least privileged of us often have much to be thankful for, if we stop and think about it. Also, thank you for trying to do your homework here first—you are an excellent role model for others. Here are your answers: (1) For a flag on a building (e.g., a house or garage), it is the perspective of the viewer from the street that matters, not that of someone inside. That being said, if there are no other flags being flown, you can fly Old Glory anywhere you want as long as she is not hitting the ground. (2) This is a weighty question. Yes, Old Glory should fly free, which is why we especially are not a fan of a pole or stick affixed to her outside edge (hence no flapping). Similarly, weights are a hindrance, too. But the overriding unofficial principle here is that it is better to have Old Glory flying nonoptimally than not flying at all. Some people use small weights (such as fishing sinkers or coins) sewn into the bottom stripe or glued to it (although affixed ones should be red to blend in). Another option is to open the end of the hem along the bottom edge and load it with (amount, to be determined) now-illegal lead shotgun pellets or split-shot fishing line sinkers—or even pebbles or sand. Others try tethering the bottom corner of the flag to the ground or building by connecting fishing line or string to double safety pins in the lower corner of the flag—this can work, but it often turns the flag into a sail that jeopardizes not just Old Glory herself but the staff, too. Feel free to try what you must. At least you asked. (3) For a 3x5 flag, your staff should be at least 6 feet and preferably at least 8 feet long. Thanks again for being so patriotic to ask, and Merry Christmas to you!                                                                                                               

Flag of business

The American flag is always on the top of the flag pole, but I often see businesses have their flags directly below the American flag. Is this correct? Should a business share the same flag pole? Thanks

Caring for Sharing

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jon: All of the circumstances you describe are OK. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Battle Streamers and Parade Participation Ribbons

I have seen some US National flags with battle streamers and ribbons on them. I was under the impression this should not be done. Should the streamers/ribbons be placed on another flag such as a State flag or guidon?

Streaming Rule

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ed: Yes, in general, you are correct. Of course, a black ribbon or streamer may be attached to the top of Old Glory’s staff if the flag cannot be lowered to half-mast. Sometimes we will also see streamers and ribbons attached to Old Glory simply because there is no other flag present on which to fly them, perhaps such as at a veterans organization, for example. In such cases—considering the grand overall scheme of things—we tend to look the other way. Thanks for asking!

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