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Laws and Guidelines for Civilians Displaying the American Flag

Updated on September 13, 2018
MariaMontgomery profile image

Maria is a Master Gardener, public health educator, grant-writer, artist, photographer, & proofreader. She lives in central Florida.

Old Glory Flying Proudly


Will You Display Your American Flag on Memorial Day?

More and more people in this country honor and celebrate our flag, and its history. Our neighborhood seems to fly our flags on every special day. Some fly their's every day. Independence Day (July 4) for 2015 is on a Saturday, which will make it easier for many people to have their celebrations.

Flag Day, which is on June 14 every year; and Memorial Day on the last Monday of May each year, are two of the days each year that we make a concentrated effort to do this. My husband and I live in a neighborhood of transplants, that is, all of us have moved here from somewhere else, whether other states in the U.S. or other countries. Many of the homes in our neighborhood have flag poles in their yards, and some people display not only the American flag, but also the flag of their home state just beneath the U.S. flag.

How will you honor the flag on patriotic holidays? Our family will display our flag on the front of our home. There are laws and guidelines for civilians displaying the American flag, and how to handle the flag. In this lens, I will share some those with you.

Some Additional Dates to Display Your American Flag in 2015:

July 4, 2015 --- Independence Day

September 7, 2015 --- Labor Day

November, 11, 2015 --- Veteran's Day

Improperly Displayed American Flat -- No Illumination


A Little History About All Those Rules

I Found This Flag Being Flown Without Illumination -- A Real No-No!

There are rules for displaying the American flag. For example, when flown at night, It should be illuminated.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved House Joint Resolution 303 on June 22, 1942. That resolution codified the existing customs and rules governing the display and use of the flag of the United States by civilians. The new law included provisions of the previous code that was adopted on June 14, 1923, by the National Flag Conference, held in Washington, D.C., and, with some amendments and additions, was approved on December 22, 1942.

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, the Flag Code was reenacted, with only minor amendments. During the 105th Congress, the Flag Code was removed from Title 36 of the United States Code and re-codified as part of Title 4. More in-dept information about the Flag Code is in a document that can be found at The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions.

About this photo, there was some light from a near-by building, and I used a flash with my telephoto lens. Otherwise, the flag would be in complete darkness.

The Rules Most Commonly Needed by the Average Citizen

The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. It should always be allowed to fly freely, never encumbered in any way. This is highly symbolic of our freedom as American citizens.

  1. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water. This includes merchandise on display beneath the flag.
  2. The flag should always be carried aloft and free; it should never be carried flat or horizontally, unless folded in the traditional triangle fold.
  3. The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. I always think of this whenever I see olympic athletes wrap their country's flag around themselves. They do it as a symbol of national pride, and probably out of ignorance of the proper way to respect our flag.
  4. The flag should be allowed to fly freely, and never be drawn up in folds or festooned in any way. If bunting is desired, using the flag is inappropriate. Bunting of red, white, and blue, is fine, but should always be arranged with the blue on top, the white in the middle, and the red on the bottom.
  5. The flag should never be used for advertising purposes - ever. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff, flagpole, or anything from which the flag is flown.
  6. The flag should not be embroidered or imprinted onto such articles as T-shirts, handkerchiefs, cushions, nor should it be embossed or otherwise printed on paper napkins, paper plates, or boxes, or on anything that is intended for temporary use to be discarded later.
  7. While no part of the flag may be used as a costume or athletic uniform, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. Because flag pins are replicas of the actual flag, they should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  8. State flags, organizational, and institutional flags should always be flown beneath the American flag if on the same flagpole. If flown on separate poles, those poles should be shorter than the pole holding the American flag. However, if flown alongside the flags of other countries, international law requires that all must be flown at the same height during peacetime.
  9. The flag should never be "dipped" to any person or thing. (Such as when carried in a parade, I believe).

American Flag Properly Displayed at Night


Must the Flag be Taken Down at Sunset? Or When it Rains?

Not Necessarily

The American flag is generally flown from sunrise to sunset. It is, however, acceptable to fly it at night if it is properly illuminated by a spotlight or some other lighting mechanism that is focused primarily on the flag.

I once lived down the street from a retired U.S. Marine who put out both the American flag, and the Marines flag every morning, and took them down every evening. Beginning on September 11, 2001, I put our flag out and left it out for about a year. Now I display it in the days surrounding Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veterans' Day.

The Flag Code states, "The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed". The custom of taking down the flag during inclement weather began before the invention of synthetic fabrics that could withstand severe weather. There is no hard-and-fast rule or law about simple rain.

U.S. Flag Properly Illuminated


Why Red, White, & Blue?

Have you ever wondered why our flag has the colors it has?

Our flags colors were not chosen randomly. There is, however, disagreement about how they were originally chosen. I have always been taught that red represents the blood shed to protect all of us who are citizens of this great nation. White represents purity. Blue represents freedom and liberty. I also heard once upon a time, that the white represents the snow at Valley Forge, and how the men suffered that long, hard winter.

Other reports state that the colors were taken from the Union Jack, the flag of our mother country. That they were originally used for the Great Seal of the United States of America, and were taken from the Great Seal to be used for our flag. More can be read about this in a post of Time Magazine at Why the U.S. Flag is Red, White, and Blue.

Need a New Flag and Banner Pole? - This is the type we use on the front of our home.

Will you be displaying the American flag on Memorial Flag Day, July 4 (Independence Day), Labor Day, or Veterans' Day? Maybe on all of them? Do you fly your flag year-round?

If you have more information about the laws regarding our flag, please feel free to share them. I will be glad to add them to this page. Thank you for visiting, and Happy Flag Day, Happy Independence Day, etc.

How Do You Display Our Flag? - Assuming, of course, you are an American citizen, or that you live here.

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    • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      I think you're right, Ron. I learned a lot when doing research for this article. Just last night, I went outside to find that the flagpole holder had broken, and the pole and flag were dangling off the front of our house. It had been raining, and the flag was dripping wet, and lying across some shrubbery. At least it wasn't on the ground. I'll have to have that repaired or replaced soon.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I bet most Americans don't know about these rules, especially the one about the flag needing to be illumined at night. Good info.

    • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      @Ruthi: I didn't know that, either. I thought that it was supposed to be taken down at sunset. I'm getting older, but still learning. Thanks so much for you comment and squidlike.

    • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      @Ibidii: I'm so sorry you lost your flags. One was stolen out of my yard a couple of days ago! I learned to fold the flag in Girl Scouts with our flag ceremony. Many thanks to your dad and grandfather for their service in keeping the world safe. My dad was called up, as they used to say, but just as he got to the port at to Mobile, AL, the war was over, and he was sent home. Thank you for your comment, and for the squidlike.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My Dad's calling in the Son's of the Union Veterans of the Civil War was to say a blurb about the USA Flag. He had to learn to properly fold it and the care as you outlined above. He taught us this from the time I could remember. He served in the Army's Air Force in WWII. Grandpa - his Dad - and his brothers all had callings in the SUVCW and Grandpa was the commander of the Pacific Region for one term. I lost my flags in a move so I made some out of plastic canvas for this year. Awesome lens!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I did not know that if flying the USA flag at night that it has to be illuminated. I guess that's my "learned something new" for the day--thank you!


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