Previous to Flag Day, June 14, 1923 there
were no federal or state regulations governing display of the United States Flag. It was
on this date that the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference which
was attended by representatives of the Army and Navy which had evolved their own
procedures, and some 66 other national groups. This purpose of providing guidance based on
the Army and Navy procedures relating to display and associated questions about the U.S.
Flag was adopted by all organizations in attendance.
A few minor changes were made a year later during the Flag Day 1924 Conference. It was
not until June 22, 1942 that Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on
December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact
rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections
(36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge
of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included.
The code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does
not impose penalties for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and
to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.
Criminal penalties for certain acts of desecration to the flag were contained in Title
18 of the United States Code prior to 1989. The Supreme Court decision in Texas v.
Johnson; June 21, 1989, held the statute unconstitutional. This statute was amended when
the Flag Protection Act of 1989 (Oct. 28, 1989) imposed a fine and/or up to I year in
prison for knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor
or trampling upon any flag of the United States. The Flag Protection Act of 1989 was
struck down by the Supreme Court decision, United States vs. Eichman, decided on June 11,
While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or
prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to
issue 'official' rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups. Consequently,
different interpretations of various provisions of the Code may continue to be made. The
Flag Code may be fairly tested: 'No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United
States of America.' Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed
acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.
Sec. 1. - Flag; stripes and stars on
The flag of the United States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and
white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.
Sec. 2. - Same; additional stars
On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of
the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next
succeeding such admission.
Sec. 3. - Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag
Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or
display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design,
drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of
the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any
such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or
otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word,
figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who,
within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public
view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any
purpose, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for
merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall
have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such
flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or
distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a
misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not
more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words ''flag,
standard, colors, or ensign'', as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors,
ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either,
made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to
be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a
picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and
the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which
the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent
the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.
Sec. 4. - Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United
States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all., should be rendered by standing at
attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men
should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the
hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and
render the military salute.
Sec. 5. - Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs;
The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and
use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such
civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with
regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the
United States. The flag of the United States for the purpose of this chapter shall be
defined according to sections 1 and 2 of this title and Executive Order 10834 issued
Sec. 6. - Time and occasions for display
(a) It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on
buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is
desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours
(b) The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
(c) The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when
an all weather flag is displayed.
(d) The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on New Year's Day, January 1;
Inauguration Day, January 20; Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, third Monday in January;
Lincoln's Birthday, February 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;
Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, first Monday in September; Constitution Day,
September 17; Columbus Day, second Monday in October; Navy Day, October 27; Veterans Day,
November 11; Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November; Christmas Day, December 25;
and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the
birthdays of States (date of admission); and on State holidays.
(e) The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of
every public institution.
(f) The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.
(g) The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.
Sec. 7. - Position and manner of display
The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on
the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags,
in front of the center of that line.
(a) The flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff, or as
provided in subsection (i) of this section.
(b) The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of
a railroad train or a boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be
fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
(c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the
right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted
by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during
church services for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the
United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position
of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any
place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That
nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore
followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence
or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of
the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.
(d) The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag
against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag's own right, and its
staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest
point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies
are grouped and displayed from staffs.
(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, 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 the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should
be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of
the United States or to the United States flag's right.
(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate
staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International
usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time
(h) When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting
horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the
union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at
half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house
to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from
(i) When 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. When displayed
in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to
the left of the observer in the street.
(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended
vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a
north and south street.
(k) When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed
above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public
auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior
prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or
speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on
the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or
monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.
(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an
instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to
the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at
half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the
President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of
the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a
mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign
dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential
instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not
inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the
government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of
that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at
half-staff. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President
or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief
Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of
Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the
Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice
President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death
and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on
Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this
(1) The term ''half-staff'' means the position of the flag when it is one-half the
distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
(2) The term ''executive or military department'' means any agency listed under
sections 101 and 102 of title 5, United States Code; and
(3) The term ''Member of Congress'' means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or
the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.
(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed 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.
(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one
main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the
observer's left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance, the flag
should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby with the union to
the north, when entrances are to the east and west or to the east when entrances are to
the north and south. If there are entrances in more than two directions, the union should
be to the east.
Sec. 8. - Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag
should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and
organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire
distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor,
water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should
never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting
of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and
the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the
platform, and for decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as
to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to
it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It
should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like,
printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for
temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard
from which the flag is flown.
(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However,
a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and
members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself
considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn
on the left lapel near the heart.
(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for
display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
Sec. 9. - Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag
During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a
parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the flag and
stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should
render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with
their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens
should stand at attention. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at
the moment the flag passes.
Sec. 10. - Modification of rules and customs by President
Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of
America, set forth herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with
respect thereto may be prescribed, by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the
United States, whenever he deems it to be appropriate or desirable; and any such
alteration or additional rule shall be set forth in a proclamation.