U.S. Flag Code: Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

September 13, 2021
American Flag Flowing

Wondering how to display the American flag? 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!


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Theoretically Speaking

The Editors's picture

Hi, Melissa: Theoretically, yes. “Practically” may be another matter. Thanks for asking!

blue striped flag

My neighbor flies 3 blue striped American flags, one state flag, and one American flag. The 3 blue striped flags are on their own tall poles in front of his house, with the state flag also on the middle of them, under the blue striped one. The American flag is in the background on a diagonal pole sticking out from the corner of his house, far lower in elevation than the others. Does this constitute disrespect?

Flagged for Disrespect?

The Editors's picture

Hi, Cynthia: Oftentimes respect or disrespect lies in the eyes of the beholder, and things are never as easy or complicated as they seem. Everything that your neighbor is doing seems to be OK, regardless of how much flag overkill or Old Glory underhonoring might be entailed. You have every right to be concerned, and thank you for coming forward. We always try to bear in mind that more often than not in situations like this it’s the thought that counts, and in the end Old Glory’s cup is not half-empty, but more than half-full Thanks again for asking!

flag etiquette

we fly the american flag at the top, then the pow flag underneath it, and now have added aa flag honoring police firefighters and first responders at the bottom. Is this legal, and should we be concerned?

Legal Flying

The Editors's picture

Hi, Frank: Everything you’re doing is perfectly fine… thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Gold fringe

Is there meaning to gold fringe on the American flag?

Also possibly related, does a wing spread gold eagle indicates flag at the US president.

What does a wings spread silver eagle mean if anything? Thank you in advance for your reply

Old Glory Birdwatching

The Editors's picture

Hi, Julie: Gold fringe is simply an embellishment or decoration that is added to some flags. Eagles get complicated. A rather 3-dimensional spread eagle looking forward is used to honor many officials, delegations, ranking officers, and so forth, mainly on watergoing vessels. The U.S. Navy is the expert on this. A “flatter” spread eagle looking toward the right is used for the president, VP, and other high-ranking officials, as well as in some other instances. Silver versus gold doesn’t really matter, although the latter is prevalent. Thanks for asking!

Hugging a flag

Should a flag ever be hugged by someone?

Huggable Glory

The Editors's picture

Hi, John: It is perfectly OK to do this… thanks for asking!

Coloring the flag Black and White with one blue line supporting.

When I saw this black and white flag with a blue strip, it hit me wrong and is so disrespectful of our beautiful American Flag. Someone made it and donated it to our local Sheriff Dept. I would like solid info to speak to the sheriff with about that B & W flag. Thanks in advance.

Blue Over Black and Blue

The Editors's picture

Hi, Alton: The flag you are referring to is not Old Glory herself but what is considered “flag art,” which is protected by Freedom of Speech. Thank you for caring so much and being so patriotic to ask!

Church Placement at the rear

Due to space limitations at the front of our church we must place our flags at the rear of the sanctuary. Which side (in relation to the pulpit) should we place the American Flag? Do we correctly assume that the Christian Flag is on the opposite side?

Church Placement

The Editors's picture

Hi, Rob: In this case, the back of the church now becomes the “front” for Old Glory purposes. Thus, she would be on the left when viewed from the pulpit and the Christian flag be across the aisle (although not necessarily; it would be OK to have them side by side on the left side when viewed from the pulpit) on the right. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Can you display a flag in a case anytime

We received a flag that was flown over the Capitol for our some the day he graduated from Basic Combat Training. Is it acceptable to store the flag in a shadow box with a frame for the certificate he received from our Senator?

Basic Flag Training

The Editors's picture

Hi, Melissa: Absolutely—and congratulations and thanks to your son. And thank you for asking!

meeting etiquette

Is it a law that meetings, public or private, start with the Pledge of Allegiance while facing the US flag? Or start of day in schools?

Pledge Class

The Editors's picture

Hi, Myron: There are no federal laws to this effect. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

Us flag license plate

I wanted to purchase a license plate of the flag for my husband's new car. In SC you only have a plate on the rear of a car. So can we have a flag plate on the front of the car. Thanks


The Editors's picture

Hi, Sally: Yes, you may, as it is considered “flag art,” not an actual Old Glory herself. Thanks for asking!

Positions of Flags on Home

I will be flying 2 flags (US and Marine Corps) from poles attached to 2 front porch posts.

Facing the porch, which flag goes to the left (right end of the porch)?

Thank you for your assistance.

Left Face!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Katherine: Old Glory would be on the left as you face them. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Indoor display of an authenticated American Flag

Hello! My family was given a beautiful and authenticated American Flag that we would love to respectfully display inside our home. Is having the flag properly displayed horizontally and encased in glass and/or framed along the edges deemed proper flag etiquette?


The Editors's picture

Hi, LIndsay: Absolutely! Thanks for asking!

Why certain days?

Why should the flag be displayed on Easter? And also, Washington's birthday is February 22nd.


The Editors's picture

Hi, George: Thanks for taking the time to read the article above these comments. We say “variable” after Easter because some localities request the flying of Old Glory at that time. And yes, indeed, Washington’s birthday is February 22, but we are giving when it is celebrated, the third Monday (which is actually Presidents’ Day). We have now fixed this area of confusion, so thank you very much for pointing it out!

Flag question

When displayed from a staff projecting from a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff. Does it need to be brought in every night or if left out should it be lighted through the night or is this just for flags one poles. Thank you for your response.

Lit Up

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ginger: All Old Glories, regardless of how flown, should either be lit at night or taken down/in. Thanks for being so patriotic to ask!

sewing on flag

Is is disrespectful to sew the word DEMOCRACY on an American flag?

Pro Democracy?

The Editors's picture

Hi, P: Doing so is protected under Freedom of Speech, but it also changes Old Glory from being a flag to being a piece of “flag art,” so you would not be able to properly pledge allegiance to it, for example. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag order

I have a tall flag pole and fly 3 flags, the American flag, marine flag and now An Appeal to Heaven flag. What is the proper order for these flags to fly?