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!

2021_engagement_calendar_winter_ad.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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!

Half Staff

When a half staff date is on a Sunday (like this year 9/11) and the flag is flown at a business where no one is working on Sunday, what is the appropriate thing to do? Fly the flag at full staff throughout the weekend? or lower it to half staff on Friday evening and raise again on Monday morning? Thanks

Weekends with Ed

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ed: A little late with this answer to a great question, but for future use: This boils down to which is preferable, flying half when should be full or flying full when should be half. The answer is flying full when should be half (always maximizing the honor bestowed on the flag), so in this case it would be left up all weekend. Thanks for asking!
 

Carry a flag in a parade with rain

We have a parade coming up, but it is very likely going to rain. What is the etiquette in this situation? Don't carry the flag?

Reined In

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jennifer: Thanks for taking the time to ask! Yes, it would be advisable not to carry the flag if it is raining, or to be able to furl and cover it properly if it starts dry and then begins to rain. Sometimes the type of plastic sleeve used on a folded beach umbrella can be quickly slipped onto a furled flag as a temporary means of protection. Thanks again, and stay as dry as you can!

What days around holidays should the flag be flown?

I can find a list of holidays when the flag should be flown. Let's take Labor Day as an example. Labor Day is always on a Monday, what day should I start flying my flag and what day should I take it down?

Open-Ended

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tracy: Since Old Glory can (and really should) be flown every day, there is no set time before a federal holiday when it should be raised and none afterward for when it should be taken down. Thanks for asking!

Changing the american flag

The lawenforcementtoday.com website is offering an american flag, changed to black and white with blue stripe for police...though i thoroughly support the police, i dont support changing the American flag...

Making a flag

I am an art student from Denver, Colorado and I am making an interactive piece. My idea was to make an american flag out of bought materials and sew it all together and then go to downtown Denver and have all of the homeless Veterans sign my homemade flag to bring awareness to the amount of homeless veterans we have here. Would this be acceptable or is this still illegal? if it is illegal, if i made it out of paper would that be okay to have people sign?

The Art of Flag Signing

The Editors's picture

Hi, Paige: What a great idea and question, thanks! As it stands, your idea would not really be proper, regardless of what the flag was made of. It would not be illegal, in that you would not be breaking any law, but having people sign a flag is technically a no-no. BUT, it would seem to us that the solution to your challenge might be to ask them to sign the various pieces of the flag before it is assembled, and then put the flag together afterward. That would be great! Good luck and thanks again!

Night time flag

If the flag that is mounted on the side of a house on a pole is left out all night is it ok if there is no light. Or should it be brought in every night?

Seeing the Light

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ed: It should be either lit or brought in. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Placement at a residence

I was wondering if there's any truth to installing a flag pole either centered on you doorway or to the right of it? As I look around the neighborhood, they seem to be in multiple places.

Multiple Successes

The Editors's picture

Hi, Randy: As long as it is mounted properly, there is no restriction as to where a flag should be placed in relation to a doorway. Thanks for asking!

Placement of flag in a parade

Our local volunteer fire department had parade during their festival days. They had our VFW color guard behind two fire dept. vehicles. I argued that a flag should lead the parade. I won my case but I think I caused some hard feelings. Was I wrong? I can't find anything about if the flag should lead.

Where is the front?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Dunkle: There is no specific rule that says the flag should lead a parade, although this is certainly preferred. If you stop and think about it, there are many parades with flag units embedded within, each of which is not at the front. But congratulations on your instinct, action, and end result!

I am both a Marine Corps and

I am both a Marine Corps and Army vet who currently works on a Navy Facility and as I drove on Base this week I noticed the flag being flown above the main entrance is torn in multiple spots. What specific regulation would cover the condition and replacing of the flag.
Thanks!

U.S. Code

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sean: There is no military reg that we know of that covers this, unless there is one that endorses the U.S. Code. But FYI, U.S. Code, Chapter 4, Title 1, section 8(k) states: The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. Thanks for asking, and good luck!

Storing American Flag at night or during inclement weather

I have a wall mounted flag pole which is not illuminated at night. What is the proper way to store the flag while it is not being flown?

Temp Storage

The Editors's picture

Hi, Pete: Thanks for caring so much to ask! If the flag can be detached from the staff, then the proper way is to fold it correctly and set it inside in a clean place. If the flag cannot be detached and the staff itself must be taken down, then it is OK to temporarily roll the flag on the staff and set the staff in a protected place. Thanks again!

How high off the ground should a flag be hung?

I often see people whose American flag is mounted too low to the ground, and in some cases it is touching the ground. If a flag is mounted to the house or on a column of the house, is there an approximate distance from the ground it should be hung?

How Low Can You Go?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Karen: As a rule of thumb, the bottom point of a U.S. flag should be mounted no lower than twice the length of the flag. Thanks for asking!

small U.S. "flags"

Is a U.S. flag size 4" X 6" thjat you would use as decoration or to stick in the ground along a driveway considered a real flag?

Pages