Is It Illegal To Fly A Flag Above The American Flag

Is It Illegal To Fly A Flag Above The American Flag

Is It Illegal To Fly A Flag Above The American Flag

Is It Illegal to Fly a Flag Above the American Flag?


The display of flags is a common practice in the United States, with the American flag holding a position of reverence and respect. However, the question of whether it is legal to fly another flag above the American flag has sparked debate and raised concerns about patriotism and proper flag etiquette. This article delves into the legal implications and nuances surrounding the placement of flags, examining the relevant laws, regulations, and social customs.

Legal Framework

The United States Flag Code, a set of guidelines established in 1942, provides guidance on the proper display and use of the American flag. While the Flag Code is not legally enforceable, it serves as a widely accepted standard for flag etiquette.

Section 7(b) of the Flag Code states:

"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 christening or commissioning of a ship or upon the occasion of the death of an officer or member of the Navy or Marine Corps."

This provision clearly establishes that the American flag should be flown at the highest point or above all other flags. However, it is important to note that the Flag Code does not have the force of law and is not enforceable by government agencies.

Exceptions to the Rule

Despite the general prohibition, there are a few specific exceptions where another flag may be flown above the American flag.

  • Military Ceremonies: During military ceremonies conducted on naval vessels, the church pennant may be flown above the American flag during church services. This exception recognizes the unique circumstances and traditions of the Navy and Marine Corps.

  • Foreign Dignitaries: When a foreign dignitary is present in the United States, their national flag may be flown above the American flag as a courtesy and diplomatic gesture. This practice is typically reserved for official state occasions and is not extended to private or personal use.

Social Customs

Beyond the legal framework, there are established social customs and protocols regarding flag placement.

  • Placement on Buildings: On buildings, the American flag is typically flown from the highest point or on a staff that is higher than any other flag. When multiple flags are flown on the same staff, the American flag should be at the top.

  • Horizontal Display: When flags are displayed horizontally, such as on a wall or stage, the American flag should be placed at the right-hand side or in the center if multiple flags are flown. This placement symbolizes honor and respect for the American flag.

  • Avoidance of Confusion: Flags of other nations should not be flown in a manner that could be confused with the American flag. Identical or similar flags should be avoided to prevent any misinterpretations.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

While there are no legal penalties for violating the guidelines of the Flag Code, there can be social consequences for improper flag display. Individuals who knowingly or intentionally disrespect the American flag may face criticism, public backlash, or even legal action in some cases.

Common Misconceptions

There are several common misconceptions surrounding the placement of flags.

  • Myth: It is illegal to fly the Confederate flag above the American flag.

  • Fact: The Confederate flag is not officially recognized by the United States government and is not covered under the Flag Code. However, there may be local laws or ordinances that restrict the display of the Confederate flag.

  • Myth: The Mexican flag can be flown above the American flag because of historical ties.

  • Fact: The Mexican flag does not qualify for any of the exceptions outlined in the Flag Code and should not be flown above the American flag.

  • Myth: It is okay to fly a corporate or personal flag above the American flag.

  • Fact: The Flag Code explicitly prohibits the display of any flag above the American flag, except in the specific exceptions mentioned. This includes corporate, personal, or any other non-national flag.


While the Flag Code provides guidelines for the respectful display of the American flag, it is important to remember that it is not legally enforceable. Nevertheless, adhering to these guidelines and established social customs is essential to maintaining national pride and preserving the dignity of the American flag. By following these rules, individuals can ensure that the American flag remains a symbol of unity, patriotism, and respect.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I fly my state flag above the American flag?
A: No, the American flag must be flown at the highest point or above any other flag, including state flags.

Q: Can I fly the American flag upside down?
A: Only in cases of extreme distress or danger. Flying the American flag upside down is considered a distress signal.

Q: Can I display the American flag on my car?
A: Yes, but it must be attached in a dignified manner and not dragged or allowed to touch the ground.

Q: Can I burn the American flag as a form of protest?
A: The Supreme Court has ruled that burning the American flag is a protected form of speech under the First Amendment.

Q: Is it disrespectful to fly the American flag with other flags?
A: No, as long as it is flown at the highest point or above any other flag and not in a manner that could be confusing.


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