U.S. Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

June 12, 2019
American Flag Flowing

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

Hi, Andrew: This is all about

The Editors's picture

Hi, Andrew: This is all about respect for the flag -- which, by asking this question, you show that you have. Thank you. Eighty feet is a little tight for this type of "overshadowing" of the U.S. flag by other flags/pennants of any type, but another thing to consider is that much as you Chicago fans may think otherwise, Chicago sports teams aren't sovereign nations unto themselves. Another thing to bear in mind is that by setting the U.S. flag apart and raising it on a beautified, landscaped mound, you are giving it the preferential treatment that it deserves. We would say that you are good to go.

So My dad passed and I got

So My dad passed and I got his flag I have a flag case but I was trying to find out if i can hang it on the wall point down so i can use it as a shelf for his picture? what is the etiquette for putting flag boxes on the wall? Please help.

Hi, Leigh Ann: Thank you to

The Editors's picture

Hi, Leigh Ann: Thank you to your father for his service! And thank YOU for caring enough to ask this question -- the answer to which is complicated. The bottom line here (well, sort of) is that this flag has been properly folded and is now protected by a case. Nothing can ever be placed on the flag. However, here we are talking about the case, so your usage would be OK. That being said, your memorial display still needs to be placed in a well-lit (but not necessarily specially lit) position of respect (not that you wouldn't). For example, it would be inappropriate for it to be down near the floor or surrounded by felt pennants from your favorite vacation spots. And, although this goes without saying, the photo and case need to be regularly dusted. Go for it. No doubt somebody is pretty proud of you right now for even thinking of this.

Is there a rule of etiquette

Is there a rule of etiquette or published code for flying the flag at night? For example (and to the point), is it required to have a light shining on it? I believe it is code, but I cannot find it. If that is the case, can you please cite the code, as I'm trying to get my homeowners assoc. to get the flag lit at night. Thanks!

The flag should be raised

The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.

google Flag etiquette, there are many sources

I am a cub Master and s

I am a cub Master and s scoutmaster with about 90 boys, I want to teach them right, when lined up with the us flag in front of the line. Where does the colored guard stand in front or behind, I have seen it both ways

Hi, Brian: This is an

The Editors's picture

Hi, Brian: This is an excellent question! Thanks for being so thorough and so patriotic. There are always at least two color guards who guard the flag bearer(s). When they are in a column, one guard goes first. Then comes the U.S. flag. Then any other flag(s). Then the second color guard. The idea is that the flag(s) are guarded on all (well, two) sides. Thanks again to the Leader of the Pack!

As for the state flags being

As for the state flags being flown at the same level as the National Flag is wrong. There is only one state that has the authority to be able to fly their flag at the same height and that is Texas.

When flown with flags of

When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor - to its own right.
..The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger.
..No other flag ever should be placed above it.
So the rule is no other flag higher than old glory, same height is ok

Two flags, US to it's right,

Two flags, US to it's right, more flags, US flag CENTER.

Isn't it improper to have the

Isn't it improper to have the american flag flying the same height as a flag on on ether side of it I thoughtthe american flag is always slightly higher

Our flag should always be at

Our flag should always be at the same height of any country we are not at war with. For diplomatic reasons, you could probably extend that to every country. Same height.
States are different. Stars and Stripes should fly above every state (although someone here said Texas can be same height, but I don't know if that's true.)

Is is appropriate for a

Is is appropriate for a funeral home to fly the flag at half staff when conducting a funeral for a qualified veteran?

Hi, Ben, The short answer is

The Editors's picture

Hi, Ben,
The short answer is no. The only source that we know of to address this is the National Flag Foundation (http://www.usflag.org/nffhalfs...). According to this org, only the U.S. President and, under specific circumstances, the governer of a U.S. state, territory, or possession can the U.S. flag be flown at half staff. On this link page are cited several "good-faith misunderstandings"—examples of government officials who issued such an order. According to the org (NFF), these individuals did not have the proper authority. So, again, it would not be appropriate in the situation you describe.

I work at Walmart and they

I work at Walmart and they have display the American flag along with the state flag indoors and its doesn't look right. When you look at it the American flag its on it left of the state flag and where the stars and strips are pointed west and i thought the stars always pointed to the north star never away from the north star. Am I right about this that the stars are always pointed to the north star???

Hi, Robert: When flags are on

The Editors's picture

Hi, Robert: When flags are on a wall, they can be considered the same as standing on a stage facing us. In that case, the U.S. flag should always be on the right side of the presenters, and thus on the left side of the stage or wall as we face it. The U.S. flag's blue field should always be on the left as we look at it, regardless of where the North Star is. Thanks for caring!

I have an issue with a guy

I have an issue with a guy living down my street. Whenever he displays his flag it's pinned up over his garage door with the union to the observers right. Which is backwards. I printed out a proper way to display an American flag 101 from the Internet, along with a friendly note. Next holiday, flag was back up, again backwards. So I knocked on his door. His wife answered and I asked why do they always display their flag backwards. Her reply was "it's torn and can only be displayed that way." My response was that it would be pinned up by the same two points, just the flag turned around. And I also added that if it's torn then it's considered unserviceable and should be properly disposed of. Her response was to slam the door in my face. Next holiday he did display his flag the proper way. But that was short lived. Because this past holiday it was back up backwards. So I happen to drive by and he was outside. So I stopped and said "hey your flag is backwards" he said there was nothing wrong with his flag, you see the flag flying over the Capitol building blowing one way, and blows the other way. I tried to explain to him yes on a flagpole but on a building the union should be to the observers left. He just said get lost and he walked inside his garage. Aggravating to say the least!! The guy is a total ignorant idiot. As I am an ex Air Force a Honor Guard and 10 yrs in the military. I sure do wish there was some way I could get it through his thick skull that he is wrong.

Maybe try building a

Maybe try building a relationship with your neighbors first before telling them how to do things in their own home, even if it is visible. Even though you are right and noble for trying to protect the flag, they obviously don't have the same value for it as you. But hey- at least they are flying the flag! Most people just don't like being told what to do. Work on the relationship first, then if you can build trust with them, they might listen to your story of service and understand why it is so important. Good luck!

Your post began

Your post began with..."Here's what Congress advised for the use of the U.S. flag in a joint resolution dated June 22, 1942." This is not true. Your post goes on to say when the flag shoud be displayed. It includes MLK's birthday. Noooo he was not a black icon in 1942.

Thanks for the good catch,

The Editors's picture

Thanks for the good catch, Dan!

I work at a company that has

I work at a company that has an american flag on a 30 ft pole.I have heard that the US gov changed the rule on lighting on the flag at dusk to dawn because of light pollution & that a light is not needed flying the flag at night. is this true or just a rumour ?

The ruling is, now, due to

The ruling is, now, due to that law being passed, is that any flags may be lit, but from below their lowest hanging point, and so as not to cuase direct light to spill into eye view from the ground.

Light poluution, so called, is NOT when light bounces off clouds or dust or smog in the air. Light poulltion, per the law, is light DIRECTLY aimed at other areas other than the areas to be lit (just think, light on opoles behind your house from the nearby baseball park - any of that light directly visible to you on your proerrty cviolates the Light Polution Law)

I have been attempting to

I have been attempting to display "Old Glory" at my condo complex respectfully yet unsuccessfully since last year. First, I was told the display was disrespectful by our Canadian Board of Directors President. Without the guidance of your wonderful guidelines, I was forced to take the flag down. Now I'm being told I must ask permission to display the flag to honor my deceased WWII veteran father and my disabled Purple Heart, Silver Star, Vietnam vet Ranger brother. Flags displayed on my front door will suffice for my display urges. Needless to say, I am livid! I've been leaving the flag up at night as it has a street light which shines on it until I can find a sponsor to hard wire a light into our electric system. I was told that I had to write a special letter requesting permission to

I am having the same

I am having the same discomfort when I was told by condo association to only display my flag during special occasions or holidays. I am a 20 year veteran and feel I have the right display my flag anytime. Many service man and women died in keeping the American flag flying. I WANTED TO KEEP MY FLAG FLYING.

You have the right and law

You have the right and law behind you to dospaly your flag every day of the year if you want. The question is though, local authority CAN make a rule for pole color and hieght and whther or not a porfessional flag pole installer must be used, this makes snese. Butm, if your pole is up to code (and a code must exost), they may NEVER tell you when or when not to display your flag, that is reserved for your State Governor and the US President - only.

Your condo association is

Your condo association is violating US Law. No one can tell you when or how to fly the flag other than the Flag Code and Presidential or Governor decree for half-staff times.

Period. They are wrong. And that IS enforceable in court.

Is it necessary when

Is it necessary when nonmilitary personnel carry the flag to be posted prior to the pledge of allegiance and national anthem, that they wear gloves, white or any other color? Some members of the Emblem Club (whose emblem is the American Flag) have indicated that it is required to wear the gloves when posting or removing the flags.

Not at all true, however, the

Not at all true, however, the idea of wearing any gloves is to promote a clean flag. That would be the ONLY reason to insist on gloves of any kind, while touching the flag. If only touching the halyard or pole, gloves are NOT required.

The above quote explains

The above quote explains about the Dos & Don'ts while we hoist American flag. It will be very much useful for all to give proper respect to the flag.

I see many decorating sites

I see many decorating sites now have pillows made with small American flags. I was raised (active in scouting and daughter of a Korean War veteran) that this was disrespectful. How should I respond to these young "decorators"?