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

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What do you do if the flag is on fire?

As some of us well know, protesters set a flag on fire during the DNC. My friends and I want to know, if you see an American flag that has been set on fire--intentionally or unintentionally--how are you "supposed" to extinguish it? If you don't have any water or a fire extinguisher, are you "allowed" to step on the flag to stamp out the fire, so that later you can properly retire the flag?

Proper Steps

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ian: Wow, this is a fantastic question–thanks for asking! Yes, you are allowed to stomp on a flag to put a fire. The importance of the act of protecting the flag takes precedence over how you do it. Thanks again!

Law Enforcement

In the light of recent events, our community would like to show our appreciation to law enforcement. We have 2 tall flagpoles, one at our town hall and another at our beach. We would like to fly a "Thin Blue Line" flag below the US Flag. Is this in violation of any etiquette associated with flying the US flag?

Fly Away

The Editors's picture

Hi, Donna: This would not be in violation of any etiquette–thanks for caring so much!

Tattered American Flag

I am a history teacher, I recently found an old tattered American Flag at my mother's house and wanted to know if it would inappropriate to hang in my classroom? I like the look of old tattered flags. Thank you

Time to Retire

The Editors's picture

Hi, Omar: It really is not advisable to display a tattered flag, unless it has some sort of historical significance, in which case it should be in a case preferably. Perhaps there is a great teachable moment here on how to properly retire a flag. Your local veterans organization would no doubt be happy to help. Thanks for asking!

My precious Flag

I fly my flag proudly on my truck. I love my country with all my heart. I was at work yesterday and a gentleman went up to my friend and aked who's truck was that that was flying the American flag ? She told him it was Sherry inside the store he told her to tell me to retire my flag for it is disrespectful because it is torn she told the gentleman OK. Then she called me in the store and told me what he had said. It had started to rain so she went out to see if my windows were rolled up lo and behold the gentleman had literally ripped my flag off my pole leaving pieces of my American flag stuck to the pole. To say the least I was devastated I was so crushed I was bawling I cannot believe that somebody would do that to my American flag that I have been flying for three years since I got my truck . Yes I change them every four months or so when they do get tattered I just have not had a chance to change it yet. I get honks and waves all my customers come and say thank you for loving Our Country. Why would someone do this. Although I did not know about not flying tadder flags and this situation brought me to your site to get educated. I'm so hurt. Any suggestion on what kind of flag I could buy that will with stand flying on my truck. Money is tight but I love my Counrty and proudly want to fly my flag. God Bless the USA.

The Right Stuff

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sherry: You are the stuff of which great patriotism is made. Take solace in knowing that there are many, many millions like you. And keep on flyin’!

Bunting fan flag rules

Hi, I have 2 questions. We just bought a house and get the keys on July 21st. We want to put bunting fans along our upper deck railing. 1) do we need to light these at night? If so, would keeping the deck light on be sufficient or does each fan need it's own light? 2) since these are a holiday type decoration in the suburbs, will it be proper etiquette to hang after the 4th ?

Bunting Forever

The Editors's picture

Hi, Aggie: Congratulations from the OFA on your new house! As a decoration, rather than flag, bunting does not need to be lit at night. And it’s perfectly OK to hang patriotic bunting (properly) anytime and anywhere you want! Good luck!

Half staff with POW flag?

Our local Boy Scout troop has responsibility for the town flagpole in our town. Every Memorial Day they perform a flag ceremony where they lower last years American and POW flags and raise new ones. The POW flag is attached below the US flag. Our town is very proud of this tradition and display. My question is on occasions where the flag should be lowered to half staff, should the POW flag be removed or is it proper to leave it attached to the halyard when the flags are flying half staff?

Both OK

The Editors's picture

Hi, Harry: It’s fine to leave it attached below Old Glory–great question!

Time to put this to rest

I work armed security at night at a private "dooms day bunker" silo. We have armed security guards 24/7 365. Most of us are Law Enforcement officers & military, some both. One guy only has experience working in Corrections & for a different security company, I'll call him Dave.
My question stems from this..... The last 2 years on the 4th of July Dave has duct taped a small American flag onto a pole near our guard shack. Both years I've come to work at 11:00 pm for my shift to find the flag still up but unlit. Both years previous military (one military contractor & one Marine) worked the 3pm-11pm shift and to my surprise were allowing the flag to stay up unlit. All 3 of their responses to my request to honor the flag by taking it down at night has been "if the flag is displayed on a 24/7 armed post is does not have to be lit". I cannot find any flag etiquette that states these rules that they say apply to military 24/7 posts. The other part that is bothersome to me is they were told this rule by a previous security leader employed here who was fired due to lying & stolen Valor.
Please help me put this question to rest. Thank you!

Armed or Not

The Editors's picture

Hi, Megan: From a technical standpoint, all U.S. flags flown at night should be lit. We can see why your very well-meaning and patriotic associates would want to leave it up, but there is no distinction made between armed and unarmed posts, or between any post and your backyard, for that matter. The exception, of course, would occur if a military order were issued to fly an unlit flag at night–say, for example, to forcefully declare the establishment of a position–in which case the order would rightfully be carried out. Thanks for the question, and thanks for what you “guys” do!

Military & US Flag Code

Are there any DOD or US military requirements that service members must abide by the US Flag Code? I noticed that the military Exchange (AAFES) sells napkins and other items printed with the US Flag which is disrespectful according to the US Flag Code. I called AAFES HQ to address this but have been informed that the code uses the term "should", not "shall" so they are just profiting from a demand.

Optional

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom: Indeed, the U.S. Flag Code is optional and thus reliant on a combination of patriotism and good taste everywhere. You can be the judge. Oops, looks like you already have been! Thanks for caring so much!

2 American flags on the same pole

A friend of mine just sent me a picture of 2 American flags flying at half mast on the same pole at the Courthouse Square in Prescott, AZ. Any idea why they would do this?

Two for Two

The Editors's picture

Hi, Angela: Tough to say, not being able to see, but sometimes this is done to commemorate two deaths–although technically it is not proper flag etiquette. Great question, thanks!

Porch flag/half mast

I have a flag flying from a post on my porch. The piece that holds the flag has two slots. One at a 45 degree angle upward and one at a 90 straight out. Is the 90 for flying the flag at half mast.

Good Question!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jim: No, the lower slot is not for half-mast, which for a flag like this would be indicated by adding a black streamer to it (search below for more about streamers). The two slots are to give the user the option of which to use (either is OK, and remember, not all circumstances are the same) or to allow a second (non-U.S., such as state) flag to be flown below Old Glory. Thanks for asking!

Flag

I fly my flag 24/7/365... it is ragged and fading.. just like me... if you do not like my flag... get your own..

I agree with you! You tell

I agree with you! You tell them!
I just recently had someone leave a note on my porch telling me to take my "tattered flag" down.
The nerve....

In other words you are

In other words you are putting your own pride ahead of the flag. No one is saying to get rid of it. If it has sentimental value, put it in a case and keep it that way.

You may be "old and tattered" but the flag does not represent you. It represents the country.

Donating a flag for a small town city hall

I would like to donate a USA flag to our city hall to only be inside building - as they do not have one-
My husband a nam vet and now dead - was involved with the community be it local goverment or what have you - now our daughter was selected to work as the city clerk which I know my husband would be ever so proud of her for taking on such a job-but to our dismay she said mom- the state seal is on wall but no flag of any sort - what kind and what size or what????

A Proud Family

The Editors's picture

Hi, Danielle: Looks like yours has always been a wonderful, patriotic family–you must be so proud. It sounds to us like all you need to do is have you or your daughter ask the City Fathers and/or Mothers (i.e., City Council or Mayor) what would be appropriate and how to go about donating it. Thanks for thinking of this!

Flying historical flags

I am a vet from the 60's & live in a small town in central MN, where I also serve on the city council. Earlier this year, we had an individual display a couple of Conferate battle flags in their front windows. About a week later, another person attached another such flag to the second floor, outside their house. Needless to say, many in the town are upset (both locations are on a somewhat heavenly traveled trunk highway directly through the middle of town) & we have been advised that
there is nothing leaglly we can do to stop the display. So, I decided to fly the US flags of the 1860's (there were two: 34 & 35 Stars & Stripes used during the Civil War) on my own flagpoles. Some folks have asked me if protocol would allow the city to fly either flag on the city's flagpole located at our veteran's memorial? For that matter, is it within protocol to fly any historical, official US flag on any government location? I am sure we are not the only location in the US that is faced with this problem. Sorry for the long comment, but wanted to explain the complete circumstances. Thank you for this service.

Historically Speaking

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alex: Sometimes we think that you folks lie awake nights trying to come up with situations that will cause us to lie awake nights in trying to figure them out. But seriously, this is a fantastic question over which we didn’t lose that much sleep. Historical flags are sort of in a netherworld of their own. They are a U.S. flag, but they are not the U.S. flag (which has superceded it at some point). So, in terms of hierarchy and treatment, they rank below Old Glory yet above all other nongovernmental flags. Is it OK to fly either historical flag at your veterans memorial? Yes, in the same way that you could fly any flag you choose there. But bear in mind that the historical flag does not represent the same patriotic oomph that Old Glory does. A great way to use historical flag(s) at memorials is with more than one flagpole, with Old Glory highest and historical flag(s) on separate pole(s) lower. This marries the present with the past, as memorials do. But, basically, historical flags are history (however important and poignant) and Old Glory is The United States of America. FWIW, we would not replace Old Glory with a historical flag at your memorial, even though this sounds like a great idea and no doubt the heart is in the right place. Thanks for asking!

Historically Speaking

Thank you so very much for you rapid reply. You made an outstanding point about always flying Old Glory. Our memorial has the high pole & 5 shorter ones for each of the major services which we could use for 34 & 35 star flags. Thanks again for your guidance.

Historically Speaking

Thank you so very much for you rapid reply. You made an outstanding point about always flying Old Glory. Our memorial has the high pole & 5 shorter ones for each of the major services which we could use for 34 & 35 star flags. Thanks again for your guidance.

Perhaps late but..

I realize this likely comes a bit too late, but while I certainly understand the sentiment behind it all, and do not agree with people flying the confederate flag unless it is for historical purposes, flying an 1860's US flag may be found inconsiderate to those who fought back then as they, in the end, were Americans as well, only flying another flag (I realize they are no longer alive, but their memory is, regardless of rights or wrongs). It is one thing to fly a confederate or union flag on personal property, but public property should be given a lot of thought, and if the reason to fly any such flags is as a response to those flying "the other sides" flags, then I believe they would be flying for the wrong reason.

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