Rules for Raising & Lowering the National Flag

The American flag flies high

The standard of the United States of America—the red, white and blue Stars and Stripes—must be treated with the utmost respect. According to the United States Code 8j of Title 36, “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing,” so the length and detail of the flag code—and specifically, how it should be flown or displayed properly—should come as no surprise.

1 Flag Orientation

Generally speaking, the “union” aspect of the flag, the blue square with 50 white stars representing each state, should always appear on the viewer’s upper-left side. Unless the flag is flying at half-staff, the union should be placed at the very peak of vertical flagstaffs, and the same rules apply for angled display poles.

When the national standard is displayed over a street, the union should be configured toward the north for streets that run east-west, and to the east if the flag is positioned over north-south streets. Regardless of the street’s direction, the flag always should hang vertically and in a central position.

2 Where the Flag Is Flown

Citizens can lawfully exhibit their patriotism by displaying the American flag from their homes or businesses by using a flagstaff on outdoor property, or by hanging it from a pole that is affixed to a building. By law, the Stars and Stripes are flown daily either on or near the primary administrative buildings of all public institutions. The flag is to be displayed in or just outside of every school building throughout the school year. On election days, every polling place must display the flag.

3 Hoisting and Lowering the Flag

When raising the flag in the morning, everyone present should stand at attention facing the flag. As the flag is raised, members and veterans of the U.S. military should salute, while citizens should place their right hand over their heart. If a man is wearing a hat or cap—other than those wearing service uniforms—it should be removed and held in the right hand as it covers the heart. Should the weather become inclement and the flag is not weatherproof, the standard should be lowered.

4 Appropriate Times to Fly the Flag

The flag may be flown every day of the year, but this is especially true for national holidays like Veterans Day or Independence Day; dates worthy of national recognition, like Lincoln’s Birthday or Martin Luther King Jr., Day; and even certain theological and secular holidays, such as New Year’s Day and Christmas. It is customary to raise the flag and dawn and lower it at dusk; however, it is acceptable to display the flag on a building or independent flagstaff at night, provided the area is lighted.

5 Flying at Half-Staff

The flag at half-staff.

On occasions for which the flag is flown at half-staff, such as on Memorial Day; upon presidential order following the death of an important government figure; or in recognition of the death of an active-duty member of the U.S. military, the flag must be first lifted to the peak of the staff before lowering it to the midway point of the pole.