Is it illegal to display the US flag upside down?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024
By Keyla Holmes

Flying the American flag upside down, barring an emergency, goes against the U.S. Flag Code, but it’s not illegal to do so. 

The Flag Code, which regulates the usage and display of the American flag, became federal law in 1942. However, the language used is suggestive and non-binding.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that it was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech to prosecute someone for failing to follow the Flag Code. The case reaffirmed a previous ruling on citizens’ First Amendment right to burn the U.S. flag.

Other violations include that the flag should never be carried flat or horizontally and that the flag’s stars and stripes shouldn't be displayed on clothing. These violations are common and do not result in legal punishment.

Flying the flag upside down is a signal of distress in situations of extreme danger to life or property.

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
Congressional Research Service Frequently asked questions about Flag Code
Congressional Research Service United States v. Eichman ruling
Library of Congress Texas v. Johnson case ruling
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