Flag Etiquette

American Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

The American flag is one of the most prominent symbols of our nation. It is a symbol of freedom that is recognized around the world. For this reason, the American flag should be treated with respect and dignity.
We have compiled basic guidelines for proper flag etiquette. Read through to learn more information about how we should display, fly, or appropriately dispose of our flag.

Displaying an American Flag

The American flag should be displayed on all days, weather permitting, especially on legal holidays and special occasions. It is customary to display the flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings or on stationary flagstaffs.

Flags should be displayed on or near the main administration building of every public institution. It should be exhibited in or near polling places on election days and in or near schools when they are in session.

Flying the American Flag

A citizen may fly the flag on any day he or she wishes. The flag should be raised and lowered by hand—slowly and ceremoniously. Never raise the flag while it is furled. Instead, unfurl it then hoist it quickly to the peak of the flagstaff. Note that the flag should never be allowed to touch anything beneath it, such as the ground or the floor.

Flying a Flag at Half-Staff

“Half-staff” is the point midway between the top and bottom of the flagstaff. A flag flying at half-staff is a sign of mourning. When flown at half-staff, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak and then immediately lowered to half-staff. It should be raised to the peak again for a moment before it is lowered for the day.
On Memorial Day, the flag should fly at half-staff from sunrise until noon. Additionally, it should fly at full-staff from noon until sunset.

How to Salute the American Flag

When saluting the flag, those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their hat with the right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Women and men without hats should place their right hands over their chests.

When to Salute the Flag

All persons present should face the flag, stand at attention, and salute on the following occasions:

  • When the flag is passing in a parade or review. Salute the moment the flag passes.
  • During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag.
  • When the National Anthem is played and the flag is displayed. All hats should be removed. When the National Anthem is played and the flag is not displayed, all present should stand and face toward where the music comes from. Those in uniform should salute at the first note of the anthem, retaining this position until the last note.
  • During the Pledge of Allegiance.

Displaying the Flag

When carried in procession with another flag or flags, the Stars and Stripes should be at the right front of the column. It should also be in that position when there is a line of other flags in front of the center of that line. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and floating free.

On the other hand, when many flags are grouped and displayed from staffs, the flag of the United States should be in the center or at the highest point of the group. When displayed with another flag from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States should be on the right (the flag’s own right). Its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

If the flag is displayed from a staff projected from a windowsill, a balcony, or the front of a building, the union of the flag should go to the peak of the staff. This won’t apply if the flag is meant to be displayed at half-staff.

When the flag is displayed in any manner other than being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. If displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right; that is to the observer’s left.

On one hand, when displayed in a window, it should be suspended in the same way that is, with the union to the left of the observer in the street. If it is displayed over the middle of the street, the Stars and Stripes should be suspended vertically with the union to the north on an east-west street and to the east on a north-south street.

Note that the flag should be hoisted out from the building toward the pole union on some occasions. This is particularly done when the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from house to pole at the edge of the sidewalk.

When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag may be displayed flat, above and behind the speaker. If flown from a staff, it should be on the speaker’s right; all other flags on the platform should be on his or her left.

If it is displayed on the pulpit in a church, the flag should be flown from a staff placed on the clergyman’s right as he faces the congregation. All other flags on the pulpit or chancel should be on his left. However, when the flag is displayed on the floor of a church or auditorium, on a level with the audience, it is placed to the right of the audience.

For situations in which flags of states or cities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When flown from adjacent staffs, the Stars and Stripes should be raised first and lowered last.

Finally, when used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed so that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground. Additionally, the casket should be carried foot-first from the hearse to the grave.

An American Flag Should NEVER

  • Be tilted (dipped) even momentarily to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, organization or institutional flags may be tilted as the mark of honor.
  • Be displayed with the union down except as a signal of distress.
  • Be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and floating free.
  • Be displayed on a float, motorcar or boat except from a staff.
  • Be allowed to touch the ground or floor, or brush against objects.
  • Have any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, picture or drawing of any nature placed upon or attached to it.
  • Be used as a receptacle for carrying anything, or be used to cover a statue or monument.
  • Be used for advertising purposes or have advertising signs fastened to its staff.
  • Be used as a costume or athletic uniform or part of one.
  • Be used as drapery of any sort.

Disposing of Worn Flags

Every precaution should be taken to prevent the flag from becoming soiled. When a flag is worn through wear or damage and is no longer fit for display, it should be destroyed privately in a dignified manner.