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

lapel pin

how should the American flag be displayed as a lapel pin

Lapel Love

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: Above the left breast, closest to the heart. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Displaying other flags on pole under the U.S. Flag

It appears disrespectful for a Private Community flag to fly on the same halyard under the U.S. flag so closely that when the wind is not blowing the U.S. flag partially covers and gets enfolded with the community flag. Please comment.

Got You Covered

The Editors's picture

Hi, Edward: Thank you for this excellent question! A general rule of thumb is that the distance between flags should be about one-fifth the “hoist” (height, or width) of Old Glory, although what you describe often cannot be avoided. Too close together, and the flags get entwined; too far apart, and it looks bad. Obviously, the best thing to do is to try out various positions for the bottom flag to see which provides the best compromise. Thanks again!

Transporting the flag

I read that the flag should never be transported in a horizontal manner, however I need to transport the flag to a Veterans Day ceremony and the only way it will fit in my car is lying down in a horizontal position. I don't want to be disrespectful, so what should I do?

Transported

The Editors's picture

Hi, J: We hope you had a successful trip to Veterans Day, and thank you for participating in the ceremony! It is not disrespectful to sometimes bend the rules for Old Glory in order to achieve a greater good, such as a poignant ceremony. That being said, while it is true that Old Glory should not be displayed horizontally, this does not apply to being transported in a pinch. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Flag dissplay

-Should our flag ever be left out in inclement weather?
-should our flag be allowed to be torn and tattered in the bed of a pickup truck or on any vehicle?

Twofer

The Editors's picture

Hi, Chuck: 1. Not unless it is an all-weather flag. 2. No. Or anywhere. Thanks for asking!

how do you display a flag on the back of a pickup?

Can you have the American flag displayed on the back of a pickup along with other flags? If so how to do this correctly?

Flag Truckin'

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joe: If you mean flown from a staff, it would be on the end of the passenger side, although to do this without Old Glory quickly becoming bedraggled is often difficult. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

US Flag @ Night

Can the US Flag be flown at night without lights on it?

Dim Answer

The Editors's picture

Hi, James: It should not be. Thanks for asking!

Changing the colors on a flag.

It is disrespectful to change the color of one or more of the stripes on a flag used for campaign purposes? Thank you.

Colorful Question

The Editors's picture

Hi, Stephen: When you do this, you are changing Old Glory from being a beloved flag to being a piece of “flag art.” Whether this is disrespectful is up to the beholder. Thanks for asking!

Can I hang it up on a wall?

Can I hang it up on a wall? If I can how do I?

Walled In

The Editors's picture

Hi, Shan: Most certainly, as long as the blue union is in the upper left corner (you can hang it horizontally or vertically). Any careful way to mount Old Glory is OK, including tacks and nails, as long as she is not damaged beyond the holes. Thanks for asking!

Flag protocol

My local VFW flies the flag at half staff permanently. The commander there said it was because Veterans are dying everyday so he ordered it flown there to honor them. I think it’s because they’re too lazy to put it at the proper position. If this is okay then I will accept it, but if not I will notify the National VFW for an explanation. Thanks

Permanently?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gary: Technically, this is not proper. However, their hearts are certainly in the right place, as usual. One test that sometimes proves helpful in situations like this is to ask the hypothetical question, “If one of our soldiers were lying in a foxhole under fire and saw [whatever], would he/she object or be offended?” Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Is it against the code to

Is it against the code to nail the flag flat and vertically on the side of a large tree?

Tree'd

The Editors's picture

Hi, Greg: It is OK to do this as long as Old Glory does not get unduly soiled and the blue union is in the upper left-hand corner. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag code

"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. " why are there decorations with the American flag on them and why is the american government allowed to use the flag wrong.

Artful Response

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cheryl: The U.S. Flag Code is strictly advisory, not statutory, and the uses that you describe are considered to be allowable “flag art,” which is protected under Freedom of Speech. Thanks for being so patrtiotic to ask!

Flag flying

Is it proper etiquette to fly a presidential candidate campaign flag beneath the U S on a flag pole

Politically Flagged

The Editors's picture

Hi, Suzanne: It is OK to do this, as it represents Freedom of Speech. Thanks for asking!

Inclement weather

Can the flag be displayed in rain and inclement weather?

Rainy News

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mac: Only if it’s an all-weather flag. Thanks fors asking!

Size of US flag alongside Canadian & Florida flags

We have 3 poles all same height in a triangular form. Should the US flag, on the left pole , be larger than the Canadian & Florida flags?

Triangular Logic

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dorothy: If these poles are in a triangle, with two in front and one in back, then Old Glory would be on the left front. If it is one in front and two in back when viewed from the primary angle, then Old Glory would be in the middle (front). If it is clear that Old Glory is in the primary position (as in case #2 just stated), then they can all be the same size. If there really is no primary position, then Old Glory would need to be larger, OR you could just fly the other two a few inches lower than Old Glory. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Gold cords associated with flag display

How are the gold cords to be attached and or displayed with our nation's flag. If the gold cords are used in a public display like in a school are they also used when a flag is used with a marching band in an honor guard marching unit. Are the gold cords needed?

Accordingly

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tim: Gold cords (with tassels) are an optional adornment for use under almost any circumstances. They are tied to the staff at the top, below the finial (ball, eagle, etc.) if there is one, usually by being inserted through themselves (fold in half, hold midsection loop behind staff, run the two trailing ends across the staff and through the loop). This “knot” needs to really be cinched in some way. Sometimes small pieces of string or heavy thread can be used to “bind” the gold cord’s fastening knot to itself so that it doesn’t slide apart. The cord also has to be secured in this position so that it does not slide down on top of the top of Old Glory. Any type of small fastener such as a tack, staple, or metal clip into the cord and staff can accomplish this. Thanks for asking!

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