Scouting Forums

US Flag Code and Flag Ceremonies

This discussion topic is about the US Flag Code, the US Pledge of Allegiance, bugle calls, BSA flag ceremonies: opening and closing flag ceremonies, raising and lowing the flag on a flag pole, funerals and memorial services.

Chapter 2 of the Scout BSA handbooks are about Citizenship. In the Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls (39006, 2019 printing, SKU 684768), pp. 56-62, there is basic information for completing related advancement requirements and a simple flag ceremony.

Scouts BSA Advance Requirements (2019)

  • Scout: 1f. Repeat from memory the Pledge of Allegiance. In your own words, explain its meaning.
  • Tenderfoot: Citizenship - 7a. Demonstrate how to display, raise, lower and fold the U.S. flag.
  • Second Class: Citizenship - 8a. Participate in a flag ceremony for your school religious institution, chartered organization, community, of Scouting activity. - 8b. Explain what respect is due the U.S. flag.

Your Flag

The interesting traditions behind how the American flag is flown are explained in the BSA publication Your Flag, No. 33188. This pamphlet also explains flag ceremonies in more detail.

Previous discussion and References

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Scout Handbooks - “The American Flag”

  • Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls (39006, 2019 printing, SKU 684768), pp. 56-62
  • The Boy Scout Handbook (34554, 2016 printing, SKU 621131), pp. 56-62

Your Flag

Learn the proud history and etiquette of the American flag. Includes information on proper display of the flag, flag ceremonies, and situations to avoid.
image * Your Flag, Scout Shop Item: 33188

US Flag Code

References - Updated: 18 August 2018, 7:53pm PDT

  • “U.S. Code” (current), Cornell Law School, web page
  • “New Law Authorizes Veterans’ Salutes during National Anthem”,, 30 October 2008, web page
  • “The Rules About How to Address the U.S. Flag Came About Because No One Wanted to Look Like a Nazi”, By Erin Blakemore,, August 12, 2016, web page

Pledge to Allegiance References

Updated: 18 August 2018, 7:53pm PDT

BSA References

  • Cub Scouts Ceremonies for Dens and Packs , Chapter 4 “Flag Ceremonies”, 33212, 2010 printing, SKU 33212, page 4-4.
  • Cub Scout Webelos Handbook , 33452, 2015 printing, page 31.
  • Handbook for Venturers , 33494, 2014 printing, page 19.
  • Sea Scout Manual, 12th. ed., 33239, 2016 printing, page 39. web page

Non-BSA References

  • “4 U.S. Code § 4 - Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery”, Cornell Law School, web page
  • “United States Code” (previous),, web page
  • “The Pledge of Allegiance”,, PDF

Post created: 2019-07-22
Post updated: 2019-07-27 1:21 am PDT

U.S. Code and BSA Flag Ceremonies

4 U.S. Code § 9. Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag (2008-01-28)

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

BSA Cub Scout flag ceremony:

When in uniform, with your head covered or uncovered, either indoors or outdoors, stand at attention and salute with your right hand when the U.S. national anthem is played, the colors are raised or lowered, the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, or the U.S. flag passes by in a parade.

The BSA flag ceremonies I have read (and observed) need a command for telling the audience to “Please stand and if your are a citizen of the United States of America salute the United States flag when it passes.” before the flag is brought in or taken out of a meeting room.

Post updated: 2019-07-26.

Flag Ceremony Comments

Jennifer O.

From the BSA Cub Scout Ceremonies for Dens and Packs (chapter 4):
[note: I only have access to the 2010 version, but I don’t think there were major changes to it]

Flag Ceremony Comments
Keep in mind the following guidelines:

*When in uniform, stand at attention and salute with your right hand.

*When not in uniform, stand at attention and place your right hand over your heart. You should remove your nonuniform hat.

*When in uniform, with your head covered or uncovered, either indoors or outdoors, stand at attention and salute with your right hand when the U.S. national anthem is played, the colors are raised or lowered, the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, or the U.S. flag passes by in a parade.

*The reason the color guards do not participate in saluting, singing, or saying the Pledge of Allegiance with the group is because their job is to guard the flag at all times. They should salute after the U.S. flag is posted.

*The U.S. flag is posted on the left, as you look toward the front.

*Any person can write to his or her U.S. senator or U.S. representative, and for a reasonable fee receive a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

*For more information regarding the U.S. flag, refer to the booklet Your Flag.

*You can find additional information on the U.S. flag from current encyclopedias and from veterans’ groups.

*Make sure that you include all boys in your flag ceremonies at different times of the year. Boys with physical disabilities can proudly act as narrator or even flag bearers when adults see these events as possibilities instead of barriers.

Here’s the “what if” portion. If a Scout decides to become an activists and take a knee what should happen? I’ve read a few news stories about such activism and nothing appears to have been done and the BSA isn’t touching this one with a 10 foot pole.

The easiest thing would be to do nothing and not escalate things as long as it doesn’t become a polarizing topic for the Troop I suppose. I’m interested if the BSA has an official position on this.

There’s a real discussion to be had inside that “what-if”, and it deserves mature discussion between youths that might consider taking a knee, and adult mentors.

With that said, the absolute wrongest place to have that discussion is in the middle of a flag ceremony. There’s nothing a Scouter can do in that moment that won’t make it worse.


I would agree with you that during the ceremony is not the time. I really hope that my scouts would come talk to me (their SM) before they decided to take such a stance.

I would explain flag etiquette from a military perspective. Personally, I think that those who take a knee should look to move to another country. It isn’t about disagreeing or agreeing with the current state of the nation. It is that if you disrespect the nation so much then perhaps you should find one you can respect.

We have had discussions regarding people talking a knee and so far in those discussions most scouts seem to be able to see both the intent of the person and that there is a certain irony in speaking out against the very system that allows you to speak out.

It’s a difficult issue. Yes, kneeling can be seen as disrespectful, but it’s also what’s done in church during prayer. It can be seen as protest against the people serving the country, or as kneeling by an injured comrade while trying to help him recover.

Protest — and not even necessarily peaceful protest — is a foundational block of our country. What was the Boston Tea Party, other than an armed protest against an uncaring government? What was the Declaration of Independence itself, other than a bold assertion to protest an unjust government with any means possible, with the signers pledging their lives and sacred honor?

The challenge is in understanding — and teaching youth to understand — the difference between protesting and showboating. Protesting is not always welcome, but it’s a fundamental, and fundamentally American, right.

A youth earnestly protesting something he feels is an injustice? I may not agree with him, but I’ll support his rights. I’ll even help him understand that the message can get lost in the noise if the approach isn’t well-considered and appropriate. A kid taking a knee during flags because it’s edgy when athletes do it? Time for a talk with kid and parents.

With that all said, don’t forget it was Nate Boyer, Green Beret, combat veteran, and Seattle Seahawk player that recommended kneeling to Colon Kaepernick and Eric Reid, not some flag-burning hippy protester trying to get a rise from the man. It wasn’t born of disrespect, but of an attempt to respectfully call attention to important social issues.

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What he actually said was that he would rather see him kneel than sit down as if he simply didn’t “give a d___.” He did NOT actually endorse the protest.

But here is the thing - Nate Boyer speaks for Nate Boyer. He doesn’t speak for all veterans. And many veterans think he is wrong and a disgrace to the Green Berets, the Army, and America. In the military the flag IS the same as what it represents. Every Army unit has a flag. And mistreatment of that flag is considered to be mistreatment of the very unit. If a unit is in trouble, the flag is carried furled. It is an announcement to everyone that this unit is not up to standards. When I was in every Basic Training unit went through this and everyone knew the significance. In the field I saw it twice. And it was noticed by EVERYONE.

During runs the standard bearer might take off and run a lap around another unit. This was a known challenge and the unit would ALWAYS send someone to run back around the challenging unit. I have seen men push to the point of being at the edge of medical problems doing this kind of thing. It was THAT important.

One time after a run someone was spotted resting his head on his unit’s flag. It was a topic of discussion how horrible the unit’s morale obviously was. Interesting thing here is my unit’s morale wasn’t in good condition. Still, nobody would have done that to our unit’s flag if for no other reason then someone would likely beat the snot out of him or her.

Understand I grew up in an area where every scout was exposed to this kind of teaching. What changed in Basic was that now I had signed on to stand up and lay my life if needed. I will NEVER forget the chills going down my spine the first time I heard our national anthem as a soldier. My dad told me he hasn’t either. And there is still a chill that often runs down my spine years later.

I don’t hate those who kneel. But I don’t support the act. And I think they are horribly misguided and if they really feel they can’t salute their nation’s flag they should find one they can salute. With few exceptions they are free on our side to leave and join said country. And that is the feeling share by my father who served during during the Vietnam era, and my two brothers both of whom served. One of those brothers is a combat veteran and earned the combat medic’s badge which is awarded for giving aid under fire.

Good points. And why this warrants discussion. I understand where your coming from and respect your opinion, even if I don’t 100% agree with it.

I was watching a football game last year when this topic came up. A lady in the room complained that they should do their protest somewhere else where nobody could see it…

Of course, a protest that nobody sees isn’t really a protest at all.

Hence my points about losing the message in the noise and discerning whether someone wants attention for themselves or wants attention for a problem they see in the world.

Respecting the US flag starts in Cub Scouting

I do not know what public schools are teaching about respecting the US flag. I suspect at many schools it is the custodian raising and lowing the flag on the school’s flag pole. In Scouting, being taught to respect the flag begins in the Cub Scouting program.

Webelos Den Meeting Openings and Closing

(Scouts BSA leaders and PLs can replace “den” with “patrol”.)

Webelos Den Leader Guide (WDLG), © 2018 Boy Scouts of America, Appendix 1 - Parts of Your Meeting, p. A-7ff, includes:

Opening Ceremonies and Ideas (p. A-8)
The following guidelines will help the den participants in ceremonies that are well prepared and well received:

  • An open ceremony signals the beginning of the the den meeting. It also sets the tone for the meeting. Most opening ceremonies include a flag ceremony, which provides an opportunity to teach youth how to handle and present the U.S. flag in a respectful way. …

Pledge of Allegiance Opening (p. A-10)
… In turn, each Scout steps forward, gives the Cub Scout salute (to the U.S. flag), and steps back. Followed with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Flag Ceremonies to Open and Close Den Meetings

This part of the WDLG (p, A-11 and following) is five pages long with indoor and outdoor ceremonies.

Post updated: 2019-26-2019

While I do think this “kneeling protest” is a fad that will run its course as most things usually do, the discussion is a good one. I think it’s pretty clear we all agree that taking a knee violates the US Flag code and scouts are taught to obey the rules. What if the protester is an SPL or ASPL? How can we expect a leader to teach our scouts proper flag protocols when they aren’t willing to do so themselves?

By “doing nothing” could set off another chain of events. For example, we had some first year scouts cut up and not show proper respect at a flag retirement ceremony at summer camp and many of our older scouts didn’t like or appreciate one bit. The were asked to stop but these 11 kids had a case of the giggles after a long day of camp. They know better but they are kids. Anyway, when we returned to the campsite, the older scouts called a meeting at our pavillion to address this matter and they gave those first years a “come to jesus” lecture about respect and what that flag meant to them. Some of those boys have dads that are serving, some are veterans like me, and some have dads that were killed in action. As leaders, we made sure the discussion maintained decorum and did not come into a browbeating. The message was made and we moved on…What if a Scout takes a knee in Troop that has a lot of patriotic boys? That could create a whole new level of problems.

So, what’s the solution? If after a civil and adult conversation what then if the scout wants to continue protesting? Has he violated any rules that could or should result in some for of sanction? Do you tell the scout to stop since he is violating the US Flag code?

A person who kneels is violating US law. The “Flag Code” is the law of the land. See United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 4, as referenced in many posts above. Although this law carries no punishments, it is still our law.

A Scout is obedient. "A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them.”

I would counsel anyone taking a knee that they are not living by the Scout Law. All applicable consequences should flow from this main point.

This conduct has no place in our organization.

Scouter Rob

Protest is a fundamental right in the United States, protected by the Constitution that the flag represents.

There are times when what’s legal and what’s moral aren’t aligned, and I certainly won’t tell a scout that he can’t stand for something he believes is moral because somebody might get upset.

It’s an opportunity to discuss the responsibilities of being a citizen, which are much bigger and more important than making the correct gestures at the correct times during a ceremony.

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Steve, it is not an immoral law to require standing during a flag ceremony. What is legal and what is moral are perfectly aligned here.

Protest any law you wish in an appropriate way, but disobeying another law is the wrong way to do it.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

If a Scout believes it is immoral to stand for the flag (and what it symbolizes), then he should take off his Scout uniform and organize a protest, write his modern version of “Common Sense”, write his Congressman, petition the government for a redress of his grievances, work to get legislation sponsored to change the law he finds “immoral”, etc. etc. etc.

BTW, does anyone really know what the core issue of this behavior is?

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick said in a press conference after first sitting out during the anthem. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

If you really believe that, then Scouting is not the place to change that imagined injustice with thoughtless attention-seeking behavior.

If you really believe that, then one could argue it is immoral for you to spend your time and money in Scouting rather than working to change what you think is so deeply wrong.

This thread is starting to get political. We will close this topic if it continues.

The First Amendment protects citizens from government intervention of speech. That doesn’t apply to private organizations and businesses. It’s pretty easy to find a news article where someone was fired for something they did or said on social media.

While my initial reaction would be to tell the scout to obey the rules I can see a parent now blowing up Facebook and any form of media to let the world know that the Boy Scouts kicked her kid out because he protested. Does anyone really want to deal with that?

I would counsel the scout by suggesting that if he really has a message that he wants to get out, make sure that his venue for protest doesn’t make people so angry that they will not even hear his views because he has offended the very people he is trying to get to. Also, I think it’s import to find out if this is a little stunt this kid is doing to draw attention to himself or perhaps his parents have put him up to this?

While I would love to say conform or leave Scouting, I just think that would make things worse.

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Please do. It’s a fundamentally political topic, and there isn’t going to be a happy “we all agree” moment any time soon.

Could you please move the semi-political posts to another topic, e.g. “Standing to respect the US Flag” instead of closing this topic, so I do not have to start another topic to re-post the ceremony resources? I am still looking for the Scouts BSA flag ceremony resources to post. I intended this topic to be about resources not Scout and Scouter behavior.

I also still need to add the customs related to the playing of “taps” and the singing and playing of Armed Services songs.

The custom of playing To the Colors, Reveille, Retreat and Taps

How does your unit or council/district use these bugle/trumpet calls?
What do you use when raising the flag, lowering the flag and to signal the end of the day (quiet hours)?

Do you sing the words to taps?

Retreat and Reveille

When we think of our flag for example, all of us come together as Americans and reflect on those values we hold dear: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On military bases all around the world, we are afforded this solemn opportunity to come together as Americans and reflect with the playing of “Reveille” and “Retreat.”

“Reveille” and “Retreat” play every day to signal the beginning and end of the duty day. This is our opportunity to reflect and show gratitude.


Twenty-four notes. It’s a simple melody, 150 years old, that can express our gratitude when words fail. Taps honors the men and women who have laid down their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

– United States Navy Band, Published on May 25, 2012 on YouTub

  • Taps - at WikipediA

USAF Protocol during taps (2013)

A commonly known military bugle call - taps, continues to be played at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services. It also is played as the signal for the end of the day and is played at 10 p.m.

According to Air Force Instruction 34-1201, 2.20, Protocol, “Many Air Force installations play taps to signify lights out or to begin quiet hours. For these purposes, there is no formal protocol procedures required.”

When taps is played during military funerals, military members will render a salute from the beginning until the conclusion of the song. Civilians should place their right hand over their heart during this time.

Does anyone know the signs that go with Taps?

Bill W.
2018-08-31 Cub Scouts® Ceremonies for Dens and Packs
No. 33212, 2010 printing, SKU 33212, © 1999 Boy Scouts of America. Newer version appears to be item 620581 at the Scout Shop.

Your pack should have at least one copy of this book. I have the 2010 printing. In that printing “Taps” With Hand Motions may be found in Chapter 6, Pack Meeting Closing Ceremonies, page 6-7.

This post updated: 2019-07-27 12:50 am PDT