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

Right You Are

The Editors's picture

Hi, Martin: The flag should be to your right as you stand in the door looking out…. to the left as you look at the building. Thanks for asking!

Flying State Flag Without Old Glory

Our United States Flag at work recently was damaged by storms and we took it down to await a replacement. My question is, that I cannot find answered in any Flag Code that I've Googled, when we took down the US Flag, should we also have taken down our state flag that flies next to it? I believe we should, but several others didn't think the same. Help?

Good to Go

The Editors's picture

Hi, Chick: It’s perfectly OK to fly a state flay without the U.S. flag. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Front Porch Flag

This question may be weird but....here goes! I am an American Flag lover! I have a covered front porch and recently had the porch posts replaced so took down my porch flag holder. I would LOVE to put a flag in an antique flag stand on the porch (like an indoor flag is displayed) instead of hanging from a post bracket. I have tall plants in pots in the summer and they often interfere with my flag. Is it OK to display a flag this way? It would, of course, be lighted or taken in at night. Your input is appreciated!

Let's Hear It for a Flag Lover!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jeannine: Weird question? No such thing! We SPECIALIZE in weird! It’s perfectly acceptable to do what you propose. Just make sure that the stand is somewhere on the left-hand side of the porch as you face the house. Thanks for being weird! Oops, we mean thanks for asking!

Half American/Half confederate flag hybrid

Hello,
My roommate has a flag up in our room that I find offensive on multiple levels, but primarily I find it disrespectful to the American flag. The left half of the flag is the American flag, and it blends halfway through into the confederate flag. No one on the residential life staff seems to take this seriously enough to realize how offensive this is. I have family fighting for this country, and she just disrespect the flag. She went to a military high school, and she was in my ROTC class last semester, so she should know the level of dignity the flag deserves. Also, from a symbolic lense, the flag represents a return to the antiquated ideals of the confederacy. I also found out she did this from a place of hate, to make me feel uncomfortable for not being ethnically white. Is this something that should be expected, or even accepted? I know I'm going to school in the south and she's grown up here, but I hardly find this excusable.

Remember

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jacqueline: Thank you so much for writing us, and sorry for what you are going through. Listen, as the saying goes, Flags Happen. Just know that you are not alone in this great nation in being “forced” to be in the presence of something disrespectful to Old Glory. We always tell people this: Every time you look at a disrespected flag, remember that it is possible only because of the sacrifice of many millions of Americans who fought for our freedoms and fought for someone to have the right to disrespect the flag under which they so nobly served. In other words, don’t let that flag represent disrespect. Be bigger than that and understand that indeed its very presence in and of itself is honoring Old Glory in its deepest way. Thanks again for asking–and especially for being such a great patriot!

Distress flag

Hello. We have a presidential inauguration coming right up. Many Americans are extremely distressed about the turn our country is taking. May we fly our American flags upside down? Thank you.

Distress flag

Yes Mary, I plan on hanging one upside down in my window for 4 years starting tomorrow.

Flying the flag in distress

Anyone who flys the flag in a "distress" manner, because they cannot be mature enough to accept who our President is, should be called out publicly for being a domestic threat to our country ...PERIOD !!

"YOUR" LIBERAL BIAS

It disgusts me how this that fought,some died in MY family]y, to allow some "weak" accepting "PERSON" (IS IT?) - YOU, to fly OUR flag in DISTRESS.. IT "WAS" clearly stated I WATCH AS much as I can, "OF" people on the INTERNET, NOT EDITED PROGRAMED garbage on an IDIOT BOX. It was stated we just had our FIRST MUSLIM PRESIDENT.. "that FACT" was QUICKLY stopped and NOT ever repeated,,,Hmm... are you SO DENSE to NOT "SEE" what IS going on? NEW WORLD ORDER a much? Shame on "YOU"! YOU are what is CAUSING the conflict, share this... less you are too embarrassed to!

Upside Down

The Editors's picture

Hi, Mary: This is a great question, which is really “Is it OK to make a statement with the flag?” The answer to this is no, because Old Glory is a statement of patriotism in and of herself and should not be mixed with other messages. Another little sticky point in this particular instance is that flying the flag upside down is, yes, a symbol of distress – but it’s a symbol of distress as in “Send HELP!” It’s like calling 9-1-1 with the flag. So you wouldn’t want to be crying wolf here when all you are really wanting to do is show your strong opinion. Thank you for asking and for caring so much!

CRY WOLF?

So, you write it SHOULD "NOT" be flown UP SIDE DOWN unless a REAL emergency, yet STATED "ewe" WILL FLY "YOURS" the next FOUR YEARS? Communist? Because YOUR feeling are hurt? Can't stand to RESPECT THE NATION that "ALLOWS" protest, "ewe" have to WALK ALL over that and BLAME ANYONE butt "YOURSELF!

non red white and blue flags

I've been seeing flags made out of old wood with stained or burned stripes, instead of red white and blue. Or some have a single blue or red stripe to honor police and fire fighters. Is this okay? Or should all flags be red white and blue no matter what the material is?

Thanks

Flag Art

The Editors's picture

Hi, Danny: Should all U.S. flags be red, white, and blue? Yes, if they are meant to be flags. But if they are meant to be art of some sort, that’s a different story – and we didn’t get to be the “Old” Farmer by messing with art. Different renderings of the basic stars and stripes theme occur by the thousands, but that doesn’t make them proper. Still, the fact that people have the freedom to display them and not be thrown in the clinker represents one of the basic freedoms that Old Glory represents, so in a sense “art flags” and other knock-offs are a wonderful honoring of the real deal. Thanks for asking!

Hybrid Flag?

I am planning a women's health event and wanted to pass out mini flags for participants to hold during the 5k. Would it be okay/respectful for the flags to have the U.S flag on one side and the pink breast cancer awareness flag on the other side? If not, are there any other respectful ways to display both flags at once? Thanks!

Tie a Yellow Ribbon ... er, Pink

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lauren: Thanks for this unusual question! No, it’s not cool to have something on the other side of Old Glory. You might think that perhaps it might be possible to “fly” the U.S. flag at one end of the little staff and the breast cancer one on the other, holding it in the middle like a flag drill team member who twirls the double flag sticks, but that too is not kosher. What we suggest is also not found in the “rulebook” anywhere, but if you won’t tell that we said so, what you might do is tie a pink ribbon streamer at the top of each of your mini flags, which would certainly reinforce the message. Thanks for caring enough to ask and good luck!

To my last comment

Following to my last comment, I just don't know what to really do and I feel very terrible about it.

Accidentally stepped on a Flag

Hello, I ACCIDENTLY stepped on a US flag and I feel terrible, is there anything I can do to show that I didn't mean to do it or anything like that. I'm not sure how to put it but I think you would understand what I mean. Thanks

Forgiven

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: Thank you for being so conscientious! We know how you feel, but sometimes accidents happen. We’re sure that this is neither the first time that the U.S. flag has been accidentally disrespected, nor the last. But if your heart is in the right place, as yours is, no harm was done. You can continue to be the great patriot you are with a clear conscience and no worries. You’re forgiven! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Flag

I laughed when I saw that there were rules and regulations for the American flag. It's a piece of material just like my clothing and deserves less respect as it is not even useful. I do not salute any flag nor do I stand for national anthems. I am not a puppet of my government or society. One day a rain will come and wash away all the scum from the streets. Worshiping a flag will not save anyone from this. It is a ridiculous practice. I am going to buy a few flags and do the very opposite to every rule and regulation I can find. This is going to be fun! Stay tuned.

flag

Well Brian if you are a member of this society and reap the benefits of this society perhaps you should consider showing a bit more respect

Disrepecting the American flag

Hey Brian you P.O.S !! Sin e you are such a tough guy and have no common sense what so ever...I'm sure real Americans like myself would love to know where you live...so we can pay you a visit and let you know what a piece of trash you really are !!

Sorry you are as "ewe" are

I was taught if I had nothing GOOD to say. DON'T, I feel for your Mother must NOT have taught manners?

Flag commit by brian

Hi Brian
You need to leave this great country since you have no idea what our flag symbolizes.

Superstitious people

People who are so superstitious as to worship a piece of cloth will some day come to thier senses.
Brian you are absolutely right.
Thank you for speaking the truthful facts.

Difference?

Evidently you don't realize two things, Chris (if that is your name):

1) There is a HUGE difference between "worshipping" something, and showing proper respect and reverence for it.

2) The original poster is a troll, and doesn't give a damn if you agree with him, in fact, he's likely laughing at you for doing so. He wanted to get a rise out of someone because he's a pathetic human being with nothing better to do, and sadly, it worked. What he REALLY wanted, though, was to get a rise out of the site admins, and you notice they haven't responded (probably because they're smart enough to understand what I just said without being told).

In short, learn what "worship" means (hint: worship and respect aren't the same word for a reason), and learn to think for yourself. Have a nice day!

U.S. Flag

When I put my flag outside by my door on a mount, is it necessary to lower it to half mass as well?

Staff Half-Mast

The Editors's picture

Hi, Gabe: If your flag is permanently attached to the staff, then the way to acknowledge half-mast is to also fly a black streamer from the top of the staff. If you don’t have a black streamer, then it is preferable to leave the flag as is rather than totally take it down. Thanks for asking!

Respect...

Armand Catanero, he did EXACTLY as he is supposed to do. Stand, hand over heart until the anthem is over. I don't know where this was, but there should been no Mexican anthem or flag raised on American soil. That is improper, and disrespectful to our flag and history.

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