American Flag Etiquette

The United States Code formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag and also contains specific instructions on how the flag is and is not to be used. The following are some important points from the U.S. Flag Code. abbreviated and explained for convenience.

When to Display the Flag

The U.S. Flag Code states that "The flag should be displayed on all days." However, the code goes on to say that the flag should especially be displayed on the following days:

- New Year's Day
- Inauguration Day
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Lincoln's Birthday
- Washington's Birthday
- Easter
- Mother's Day
- Armed Forces Day
- Memorial Day
- Flag Day
- Father's Day
- Independence Day
- National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day
- Labor Day
- Constitution Day
- Columbus Day
- Navy Day
- Veterans Day
- Thanksgiving
- Christmas
- State Holidays
- States' Dates of Admission

Displaying the Flag Outdoors

When a flag is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag, such as of a state, community or society, the American flag must always be at the top.

When the flag is flown with flags of states, communities or societies on separate flag poles which are the same height and in a straight line, the American flag is always placed in the position of honor, to it's own right. Additionally, the other flags may be smaller, but none may be larger, no other flag should be placed above it and the American flag is always the first to be raised and the last to be lowered.

When the flag is flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size and they should be raised and lowered simultaneously.

Flying the Flag at Half-Staff

The flag is to be flown at half-staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential order or by order of the governor. The flag always flies on half-staff for the following days:

- Patriot Day - September 11
- Peace Officers Memorial Day - May 15
- Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day - December 7
- On Memorial Day, the flag flies at half-staff until noon, at which point it is raised to the top of the staff.

To check if the flag should be flown at half-staff on a particular day, such as after a tragic event, refer to

Some flags, like the ones commonly seen on houses, are fixed in a certain position on their poles. The U.S. Code does not cover this issue, but the American Legion advocates adding a black ribbon to the top of the flag's pole to indicate mourning.

Raising and Lowering the Flag

While the flag code notes that displaying flag only from sunrise to sunset is a universal custom, it does state an exception. "However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."

When to Retire A Flag

While it is a myth that a flag must be burned if it touches the ground, the U.S. Flag Code does stipulate that a flag should be taken out of commission if "it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display." A flag should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.