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Flag Display Etiquette and Protocol


This page provides information on the protocol for displaying flags. Other than the state requirements, the display of flags is discretionary, but should follow the protocol for the order of display set out in the United States Code. The Washington Secretary of State's Office provides information on the Display of the Washington State flag with other flags. The Governor's website contains the Governor's Directives to lower the flag and provides information on the occasions when the flags are to be lowered to half-mast on its Flag Lowering page.

Washington State Provisions for the Display of Flags

Washington State provisions governing the display of flags include:

  • RCW 1.20.015 - Provides that the flag of the United States and the flag of the state shall be prominently installed, displayed and maintained in schools, court rooms and state buildings
  • RCW 1.20.017 - Provides for the display by every state agency, including each institution of higher education, and every county, city, and town, of the national league of families' POW/MIA flag along with the flag of the United States and the flag of the state upon or near the principal building of the public entity on the following days: (a) Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May; (b) Memorial Day on the last Monday in May; (c) Flag Day on June 14; (d) Independence Day on July 4; (e) National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day; (f)National POW/MIA Recognition Day on the third Friday in September; and (g) Veterans' Day on November 11. If the designated day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then the POW/MIA flag will be displayed on the preceding Friday.
  • RCW 28A.230.140 - Provides that the board of directors of every school district shall cause a United States flag being in good condition to be displayed during school hours upon or near every public school plant, except during inclement weather
  • RCW 28B.10.030 - Provides that every state college or university board of trustees or board of regents shall cause a United States flag being in good condition to be displayed on the campus of their respective state institution of higher education during the hours of nine o'clock a.m. and four o'clock p.m. on school days, except during inclement weather
  • RCW 35A.21.180 - Provides that the flag of the United States and the flag of the state shall be prominently installed and displayed and maintained in code city buildings and shall be as provided in RCW 1.20.010
  • Laws of 2013, Ch. 5 (HB 1319) - Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day - Recognizes March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. Each public entity shall display the national league of families' POW/MIA flag along with the flag of the United States and the flag of the state upon or near the principal building of the public entity.

Provisions for flying the flag of the United States appear in the United States Code, 4 U.S.C. Ch. 1, referred to as the "Flag Code." The Flag Code includes guidelines on the display and use of the flag by civilians (not military). Provisions include: use of flag for advertising purposes; time and occasions for display; position and manner of display; conduct during hoisting; and lowering or passing of flag. Guidelines for displaying the United States flag during the playing of the national anthem appear in 36 U.S.C. Sec. 301. As noted in the Congressional Research Service report cited below, the United States "Flag Code" does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance nor does it include enforcement provisions. It functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups.

Displaying the U.S. and Other Flags

Information on Displaying Other Flags

Lowering the U.S. and State Flag to Half-Mast

It is the general custom that state and local governments follow the lead of the federal government when the President orders that the flag be flown at half-staff on federal facilities. There are no regulations on this matter in Washington state statutes. Federal law, 4 U.S.C. Ch. 1, sets out rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the U.S. flag by persons or organizations not required to conform to regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the federal government; 4 U.S.C. Sec. 7(m) provides in part:

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...

When the President issues a proclamation that the flag of the United States "shall be flown at half staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions," the Washington State government follows by ordering flags to be lowered on state buildings. City and county governments tend to follow this practice as well, though there is no requirement that they do so.

Guidelines on how to lower the U.S. flag also appear in 4 U.S.C. Sec. 7 (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. There are special provisions for Memorial Day.

The Washington State flag should be flown at half-staff whenever the U.S. flag is so flown. For guidelines on lowering the Washington State flag, see the Secretary of State's webpage, Use During Period of Mourning.

Policies on When to Lower Flag to Half-Mast

A city or county has the authority to decide to fly the U.S. flag at half-mast within its jurisdiction when it deems it to be appropriate. Washington local governments tend to follow their own custom when it comes to lowering the flag to half-mast to honor various persons. Some local government jurisdictions only lower flags to half-mast when federal or state governments do so, while others show respect to the passing of local personages that may have made a significant civic contribution or died while in the service to their country or local government. It is suggested that local governments consider consulting with their local American Legion or other federally chartered patriotic organizations (36 U.S.C. Subtitle II, Part B) when establishing a half-mast policy. Veterans groups often have strong views regarding flag protocol, and variations from standard procedures are sometimes met with strenuous objections. The examples listed below represent a variety of examples from across the country. If any Washington cities or counties have an existing policy or develop a policy, MRSC would appreciate receiving a copy.

Additional References

Last Modified: April 25, 2016