Rules of the Flag

Follow the Rules This Flag Day

Flag-dayFlag Day is this weekend, meaning thousands of people will break out Old Glory and let her fly. Here are just a few rules to keep in mind when doing so. (You can find the entire flag code in PDF format on the website.)

When to fly it

Traditionally, the flag is only flown from sunrise to sunset. It can be flown at night as long as it is properly illuminated—the flag should not be enveloped in darkness. You can also leave it up during inclement weather, so long as it is an all-weather flag, such as those made of nylon; cotton flags should be brought inside during rain or snow.

There are many holidays during which the flag should always be flown:

  • New Year's Day (Jan. 1)
  • Inauguration Day (Jan. 20)
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (third Monday in January)
  • Lincoln's Birthday (Feb. 12)
  • Washington's Birthday (third Monday in February)
  • 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)
  • Patriot’s Day (Sept. 11)
  • Constitution Day (Sept. 17)
  • Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
  • Navy Day (Oct. 27)
  • Veterans Day (Nov. 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25)

It can also be flown on state birthdays or special holidays, as well as by order of the President.

How to fly it

How the flag is displayed depends on how it is presented.

  • If on the same staff as other flags—At the peak, above any other flag.
  • If grouped with other flags—U.S. flag goes to its own right, while flags of other countries are flown at the same height. Note that it should not be higher than another nation’s flag during times of peace.
  • Marching (such as in a parade)—The U.S. flag goes on the marchers’ right, observers’ left.
  • If on a speaker's platform—The flag should be above and behind the speaker. If mounted on a pole, it should be on the speaker's right (observers’ left).
  • If over a street—The stars should face north of on a north/south street, or east if it’s an east/west street.

Note that the “Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005” forbids groups such as homeowner’s associations or real estate management companies from implementing rules that prohibit the flying of the flag on your own property.


During the pledge of allegiance, national anthem, or presentation in a parade, active-duty or former military are to salute the flag, even when not in uniform. Everyone else should place their right hand over their heart. If wearing a hat, the hat should be removed, held in the right hand, and the right hand placed over the heart.


While there are some exceptions for things like artistic works, the rules on what not to do are fairly straightforward.

  • Do not let it touch the ground.
  • Do not fly it upside down unless there is a major emergency (upside flag is a sign of distress).
  • Do not carry the flag flat.
  • Do not carry things in it.
  • Do not use the flag as clothing.
  • Do not store it where it can get dirty.
  • Do not use it as a cover for anything.
  • Do not fasten it or tie it back; it should always fall and fly free.
  • Do not draw on, paint, or otherwise mark on the flag.
  • Do not use it in advertising or on packaging.


If a flag has seen the end of its useful life, or is torn or otherwise not in good shape, it is requested that the flag be burned completely. Doing so prevents it from being further soiled or otherwise disrespected, and there are a few suggestions from the Veteran’s for Foreign Wars (VFW) on how to do so:

  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  • The fire should be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to completely burn the flag.
  • Place the flag on the fire.
  • The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  • After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.

Whether or not you can do this yourself clearly depends on things like where you live and appropriate fire codes. A better suggestion is to contact your local VFW or American Legion chapter, as they will almost always take old flags and dispose of them properly.

No matter when you fly your flag—every day, or just on special holidays—following these rules will ensure the flag receives the respect it is due.

Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


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