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

"pledging"

I have a question. My neighbor and I were in our community clubhouse, watching Monday night football, on television. The us flag was displayed and national anthem played during pre-game(as was the Mexican flag and anthem). my neighbor stood and placed his hand over his heart, at this presentation. I do not believe this is necessary or correct. moreover, he did not do the same for the Mexican flag and anthem. Certainly respectful behavior for one should be accorded to the other. But I do not believe he should have stood in the first place

Indoor Anthem

The Editors's picture

Hi, Armand: Thanks for this interesting and somewhat complicated question. The game to which you refer no doubt was the one held on Nov. 21, 2016, in Mexico City. Hence the Mexican flag rules govern (and this is why their anthem was played last). At this point, let’s take a step back and remember that the U.S. Flag Code is voluntary, and no one (except the military, under military codes) is “required” to do anything. Fortunately and thankfully, though, millions of Americans like you take this stuff very seriously, which is one of the many strengths of our country. So, was it necessary for your neighbor to stand with hand over heart? No, but it was a very nice patriotic gesture. Was it correct? Sure: The more gestures of respect toward our anthem and flag, the better. (In fact, though, flag etiquette is meant to be applied in the physical presence of the flag, not when it is present via media.) Should he have done likewise for the Mexican flag and anthem? Up to him. There’s nothing necessarily disrespectful toward another flag if you choose to honor only your own. By the same token, when both the Canadian and U.S. anthems are played at National Hockey League contests involving teams from both countries, one country’s fans don’t sit down when the other country’s anthem is being played. They stand for both. Like we said, it’s complicated. But here’s something that isn’t: When people somehow don’t follow the Flag Code exactly, or if they accidentally do something wrong, or even if they just plain hate flags altogether, that’s OK. In fact, millions of servicemen and -women have carried the flag across all or part of four centuries to guarantee that these people have the freedom to act as they do. We always look at “flag transgressors” not as a bunch of lowlifes, but as folks who are honoring the basic precepts for which the flag stands. That’s what freedom means. Thanks for asking and thanks for being such a patriot!

Lowering the flag

Is is ever ok to lower the flag, roll it up in a ball and then take it inside to fold?

Having a Ball, Not

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tonya: Well, rolling it up into a ball might be carrying things to the extreme, but yes: If conditions require, it is perfectly OK to gently and carefully gather up a lowered flag and carry it inside for proper folding. Thanks for asking!

Flag protocol for presentation during the pledge/or passing by

I have researched the U.S. code, military regulations, policies, directives, etc.
From what I discern, people, including those in the military/veterans should
remain at attention when the colors are marched in (inside building) for presentation for pledge and not salute until command "Salute" is given, and pledge is begun.

They should drop salute on command of "Order Colors".

The confusion is over people wanting to salute as it passes by them. But what I read, the "passing by" salute is only for parades, etc.

Thanks sincerely.

m

I cannot find an answer in my

I cannot find an answer in my books! I was told: "All soldiers wear a flag patch with the stars in the upper RIGHT corner, representing honor and respect for those who served, a symbol of unity. It is how The Flag appears as the flag bearer runs into battle." I've never heard this. Is it correct information? (Wouldn't the perspective change depending which side of the Flag Bearer you were on?) The subject came up today when American Flag patches were on a pro-football coaching staff's uniforms with the stars in the upper right corner. Thank you so much for this site!! :) Patti

Hi, Patti: Common practice

The Editors's picture

Hi, Patti: Common practice among the armed services (and now others) has become to have the union (blue) toward the front of the wearer, with the stripes “flowing” toward the rear, as if running into battle. Thus on the right sleeve the flag would be “backwards” and on the left sleeve it would be in its traditional position with the union at the upper left. If a flag patch is worn on the front or back of apparel, it should be in the traditional orientation. Great question, and thanks for caring so much!

I am hosting a Topping Off

I am hosting a Topping Off Ceremony/Event for a New Building and they would like to have two American Flags at the event hanging off of two different Buildings. Is this okay? I was told it was proper etiquette to only have one flag at the location, but I have not been able to find any supporting documents stating that.

I would go or call your local

I would go or call your local Veteran's Legion Hall. They will be able to let you know if it is ok.

Hi, Jennifer: It’s perfectly

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jennifer: It’s perfectly OK to have two flags at the same location, and best to have them at the same level, if possible. Thanks for asking!

When you are part of an honor

When you are part of an honor guard moving a flag from one spot to another and everyone in the room is saluting the flag, is the honor guard supposed to salute the flag as they walk or do they walk with their hands at their sides.?

Are you supposed to salute the flag for any other song other then the National Anthem?

Also, when saluting the flag and the flag is on a pole, is anyone supposed to touch it and hold it out or is it supposed to be free falling?

Hi, Kathy: Wow, been savin’

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kathy: Wow, been savin’ up those questions, huh? Good for you! 1. The honor guard does not salute its own flag (or any flag). Technically (and traditionally) speaking, they are supposed to be using all of their senses and energy to be alert to “guard” and protect the flag, so being in the salute position would not be optimal. 2. Well, again technically speaking, you can salute (for military; hand over heart for civilians) the flag any time you please, and more power to you! But no, there is no other song besides the national anthem that “requires” saluting. 3. The flag should always be free, just like our great nation! Thanks for asking!

Wear flag as costume?

My daughter's class is dressing as military and she is supposed to be the flag. They want her to make a costume and not just hold a flag. Would it be inappropriate to sew 2 flags together, leave a space for her head to fit in and have her wear it? Or would I need to make my own?

No part of the U.S. flag

The Editors's picture

No part of the U.S. flag should be used as a costume. That said, you could certain use stripes and stars and create something patriotic. But making a garment made from an actual flag would not be considered good flag etiquette.

Burning/Disposal Rules of Unserviceable Flags

For those who may not know, there are specific rituals and reasoning for proper way to dispose of "Unserviceable Flags". These guidelines are easily viewed via American Legion's site. (Easier and more appropriate in this incidence rather than to flood tish blog).

legion.org/flag/ceremony (Just need to add the www and stuff. This site will not allow links. Again, if it weren't so voluminous I would just paste the text).

Thanks for posting the etiquette.

torn flag

My flag at work is torn. I will have another one to replace it in a few days. Should the torn one be taken down until then or can I leave it up until the new one arrives?

Torn

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lisa: It’s really a matter of degree. If it is torn to shreds, take it down. Tattered a bit, leave it up. Either way, Uncle Sam is smiling upon you for asking!

I was just informed by a

I was just informed by a Veteran (that was walking by), that I should not be flying our flag the way it was( It just has a little of the hem torn). He told me I needed to take it down so it could be destroyed and that it is disrespectful to fly a flag that is ripped. I did what I was asked, and brought it in till I can get a new one.

When flown at half mast

When the American flag is flown at half mast and other flags are being flown
on the same pole or adjacent poles how should other flags be flown.
I saw an American flag at half mast at a post office and another flag was above it on the same pole. They switched the normal positions to accommodate half staf.

Thank You for your help
Frank

Flagpole No-No

The Editors's picture

Hi, Frank: No flag should ever be flown above Old Glory on the same pole. Regarding adjacent poles, while it would technically be OK to leave these flags at full-staff (it really depends on what they are, too), proper decorum and respect for the U.S. flag would be shown only if they too were lowered to half-staff or taken down altogether. Thanks for caring so much!

Interesting blog post - I

Interesting blog post - I Appreciate the facts - Does anyone know where I might be able to get access to a blank VA 27-2008 example to complete ?

Flag for Veteran Burial

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brian: Just search online for that form number and it will take you right to a downloadable one that you can print. Good luck!

WITH CASKET ON BIAR, AND HEAD

WITH CASKET ON BIAR, AND HEAD IS TO THE RIGHT OF FAMILY, WHEN FLAG IS REMOVED AND DIPLAYED IN
PREPERATION FOR FOLDING, THE FIELD IS TO THE RIGHT. IS THIS A CORRECT DISPLAY?

Hi, Joseph: Not sure if we

The Editors's picture

Hi, Joseph: Not sure if we are understanding you correctly, but when a flag is draped over a coffin, the union (blue) should basically be over the left shoulder of the deceased. How the bier is oriented in the room does not affect how the flag is placed. Hope this helps and thanks for asking!

How can you find out when a

How can you find out when a flag is to be flown at half mast. With everything going on in this world today it seems like it is flown more often at half mast and I don't want to be disrespectful to our flag.

Half-Staff Alerts

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jennifer: Proclamations of special half-staff flyings come from the President at whitehouse.gov, but they are hard to find even there, and this requires an active search on your part. However, if you search online for “half staff notifications,” you’ll find a number of private companies that push out social media or email alerts when the flag should be at half-staff, which makes your role passive. Bear in mind that you will need to give them your contact information, though. Thanks for asking this great question, and good luck!

Flagpole etiquette

There's much information found about etiquette in regards to the flag itself, but I would like to know what is proper in regards to the flag pole. I had an inquiry as to whether or not a security camera can be mounted on a flagpole. While it doesn't seem proper to me, I really can't find anything to substantiate that. Can you elaborate?

Pole Pix

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alice: Thank you for caring so much about this. Mounting anything on a (U.S.) flagpole is undesirable, as it detracts from the dignity of the flag. However, strictly speaking, there is no advisory against doing so… well, other than here! Thanks again!

Displaying the US flag on home.

Living in a condo association I was told I could not display a US flag. I understand there should be guidelines for where and how the flag should be displayed, but should be able to have the flag. Is this not a law to be able to display the flag?

There Oughtta Be a Law

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tamyra Joy: Unfortunately, there is no law enabling display of the flag, other than your right to freedom of speech. And, you probably signed something in the condo agreement that gave up the right in this case. But keep trying… perhaps it’s not a question of the flag itself, but of size and/or placement. Thanks for asking!

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