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

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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"?

I have an older cloth flag

I have an older cloth flag from the 1976 bicentennial. I've noticed lately that one of the red stripes (and only one, oddly enough) is fading. Is there an appropriate way to recolor it?

Is it disrespectful to hang a

Is it disrespectful to hang a burial size flag indoors, framed on the wall. Is there anything wrong with it being tacked with brass nails all around the flag to the frame. This would be for inside a Borough Town meeting room.

I'm no expert but Brass Tacks

I'm no expert but Brass Tacks would show intentional damage which is disrespectful, framed by another method would be better.

If you know for a fact that

If you know for a fact that flag was used draped over a coffin for a funeral of a serviceman, it should be folded, remain folded and in a display case at all times. Never open or hung at all.

Why not? Your reference?

Why not? Your reference?

The right design for 3 flag

The right design for 3 flag poles- I would like to place 3 flag poles out in front of my business. What is the proper way to display 3 poles? I am getting 1- 35' and 2- 30' poles. Is it OK to place the three in an inverted design (triangle) with the American Flag in back on the 35' pole and the state on the left and POW on the right on both the 30' poles?

reverse the triangle and it's

reverse the triangle and it's perfect! Old Glory should be out front and highest!

Agreed, exactly correct in

Agreed, exactly correct in that config - out front - doesnt have to be an isoc triaangle however!

Displaying the flag (on a

Displaying the flag (on a base and pole) in an auditorium with a raised platform, if the flag is on the platform it should be on the speaker's right side. If the flag is positioned on the floor (audience level - not on the platform) does it go to the audience's right side?

The flag would remain on the

The flag would remain on the speakers right (the flags right) when ever it can

I thought if flags are left

I thought if flags are left up at night they are supposed to be lit. A Veterans monument in WI has the flags of the US Army, Navy, Air Force along with American Flag, but no lights on them at night. Is this correct?

Hi, Jane: It's incorrect, but

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jane: It's incorrect, but when we see something like this, we tend to go with the "it's the thought that counts" line of critique and infer, rightly or wrongly, that the infraction comes from lack of knowledge (and/or lighting funds) and not disrespect. After all, Badgers have always been a patriotic bunch.

2 service people complained

2 service people complained that our flag hanging on an angled pole off of our porch did not have a spotlight on it at night...of course, I did a Google search for this protocol and what I found is that the flag "must have sufficient enough lighting" at night so that "a casual passerby can tell it is the American flag." So, in our case, the porch light casts enough light (as do the street lights) so anyone driving or walking by can clearly tell its Old Glory.

We did a flag ceremony at Cub

We did a flag ceremony at Cub Scouts recently and I was wondering. If a flag is at half mass and it rains does the flag still have to come in or do you leave it out for half mass remembrance.

Here's a (two-fingered)

The Editors's picture

Here's a (two-fingered) salute to you, Pack 140! Thanks for checkin' in. We were in Den 3, Pack 254, back in the day, but there were only about 15 stars on the flag then, wethinks. Yes, a flag at half-mast does have to come in during inclement weather. But did you know that this isn't always necessarily true? The reason the U.S. flag needs to come in during bad weather is not so that it doesn't get wet -- it's so that it doesn't get damaged. So if you have a rugged, weather-resistant flag, it's OK to fly it in the rain (but be prepared to answer questions!). Incidentally, the reason the flag needs to be lit at night has nothing to do with night and day and the clock, but rather with darkness. Thus, if it gets really dark and black outside during a storm, you need to light up your weather-resistant flag. There! We've done our best to do our duty to Pack 140 and our country, and to help other people (if you know what we mean ;) ).

Hlaf Mast, half of the height

Hlaf Mast, half of the height of the mast - has nothing to do with a Catholic Mass, btw, nothing at all.

Question: I work remote and

Question: I work remote and our facility has one flag pole with Old Glory up top and the State flag below. When the State requests everyone to fly half staff, is it appropriate to bring them both to half staff? I have no good way to separate the two. Which is the 'least incorrect' ? Both all the way up even though the State wishes to be half staff... or Both at half staff?

All flags should be flown in

All flags should be flown in the correct order and all half-staff. (You may have to fly a little higher than half-staff if you have 3 flags and a shorter pole.

In this case only, as they

In this case only, as they are both on the same mast, yes, they both come to half mast, but that will make the Stae flag quite low on the pole! However, IF you could lower the US flag separetly , DO SO, Never lower a STae flag to half mast on purpose or reason, this not allowed. The Stae Gove may only decree a half mast of the US FLAG ONLY, not the State flag (by itself).

That said, in no case, on the same mast, shall any flag be higher than the US flag. If the state flag was on it's own mast, it can stay higher than the Half-mast US flag when HAlf mast is requested by the Gov or Pres.

? I have been informed by a

? I have been informed by a retired LTC that the American flag and the state flag when being flown on two seperate poles in front of a public school, the state flag is suppose to be flown 12" below the American flag. I have never heard this before and I would sure loke to know if I have been wrong for so many years.

When the U.S. flag is flown

The Editors's picture

When the U.S. flag is flown with flags of states 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, which is to its own right. No other flag ever should be placed above the U.S. flag. The state flag may be smaller but never larger. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.

If The Colors are cased is

If The Colors are cased is there a need to Salute. What regulation covers cased Colors?

My thought is if the flags

My thought is if the flags are cased (and I assume you mean in a protective cover with the staff), then the flag is treated with reverence, but not saluted since it is not visible.

I have a Marine Corps flag

I have a Marine Corps flag and I want to put it post it outside my house. What's the rules for that?

The ONLY flag? Then use

The ONLY flag? Then use whatever rules the Corps says for it.

hey is the flag ok to be

hey is the flag ok to be outside in storms?