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Can packs, troops, teams, or crews participate in political rallies?

The Boy Scouts of America might be the most patriotic organization in the U.S.

But don’t take that to mean we endorse any one political party.

The same applies to your pack, troop, team, or crew. You and your Scouts should Do Your Duty to Country but not by endorsing any one candidate.

During election years, though, the line between patriotism and political favoritism becomes thin, making it important to remind you of the BSA’s official policy on Scout participation in political rallies.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions and the BSA’s official answers:

Q: Could a pack, troop, team, or crew provide a color guard flag ceremony for a candidate’s public speaking event or rally?
A: 
Yes. But, BSA Policy requires our adult and youth members in uniform to leave immediately after the presentation of colors and the Pledge of Allegiance. Should they want to stay they must do so as individuals, not Scouting represenatives, meaning, they would have to change out of their uniforms.

Q: So Scouts and Scouters can’t stand on the platform for the remainder of the speech or presentation?
A: No, they should not remain on the speakers’ platform or in a conspicuous location where media could construe their presence as an endorsement or symbol of support.

Q: Why is this the rule?
A: The policy is meant to prevent someone from using our brand to convey support of a candidate or ideology. This prevents Scouts from being used by any party in campaign advertisements or materials.

Q: So then why is it OK to even present the colors or lead the Pledge of Allegiance at all?
A: 
Those are displays of loyalty to the nation, something the BSA has always endorsed. Regardless of the outcome of the political race, the candidate and supporters pledge allegiance to the U.S. Because of this, it is always acceptable and deemed to be a part of the civic process. Also, this “service” is offered to any party, regardless of political affiliation.

Q: Can Scouts and Scouters pose for photos with political candidates at these events?
A: Yes. But photos of candidates or Scouts in uniform or BSA marks and logos are not allowed in political campaign materials of any kind.

Q: Can adult leaders or Venturers who are 18 or older vote in elections?
A: Not only can they — they should! This policy isn’t meant to limit the freedom of thought or action of any official or member acting as an individual. Scouters and Venturers shouldn’t wear their uniform to the polling place, but they should vote for whichever candidate they prefer. That’s all part of being a good citizen — something the BSA has taught for more than a century.

Q: What can Scout leaders do to support this policy?
A: Volunteers (and professionals) must be alert to situations that would imply that the BSA favors one candidate or party over another. Strict observance of our long-standing policy against the active participation of uniformed Scouts and leaders in political events is mandatory.

Have any other questions? Leave a comment below, and I’ll try to clarify.

And as Election Day nears, the message in the advertisement from 1956 still applies: “Vote as you think, but Vote!”

34 thoughts on “Can packs, troops, teams, or crews participate in political rallies?

  1. WHY – (like so many other issues and questions in Scouting) does this have SO MUCH GRAY area ? Yes – you can do this BUT don’t do this !!! Why not just “YES” or “NO” ??? ( i.e -You can be there and post the colors – BUT you have to leave then – yeah – right ) and (i.e. -you can take pics with them in uniform – but they can’t be used ) – too much confusion and gray area left for individuals to do what they want anyways — Vs. – POLICY says — WE DON’T TAKE PART IN or SUPPORT POLITICIANS, political issues, or events !

  2. A few years ago, scouts from our troop were asked to participate at a local political debate. As is usual, the scouts were asked to act as color guard, a service that is usual and customary, so the unit was happy to do so. The scouts where also asked to serve as “time keepers” for the debate.. The scouts would monitor the time, showing the candidates time remaining using a flip chart. The moderator was the final time keeper. The scouts were asked to do this because of Scouting’s reputation for Trustworthiness. All local elections in our city are non-partisan, so there was no “show of support” for any political party. I am curious to hear others’ opinions as to whether our scouts were operating within the terms of the policy.

    • My opinion (and only my opinion) is if they were working for the debate, and not supporting the candidates (clapping/cheering from the crowd or even wearing a pin) – they were doing a service to the community.

  3. Thanks for the clarity! Over the years I’ve gotten to meet two governors, a cabinet secretary, a senator, and a candidate for present – all thanks to scouting. I’m happy to say we were always in line with all these policies, and I hope that scouts are getting to do that same in the next few months. Citizenship is not a spectator sport.

  4. Steve – seriously? It’s really that hard to follow? All Boy Scouts are encouraged to participate in the political process. The Boy Scouts of America, as an organization, do not endorse any political candidate and any Scout who does so is not a representation of BSA as a whole.

    Seems pretty cut-and-dry to me.

  5. Doesn’t seem gray to me. Present the Colors, then change clothes if you want to stay for the rally. Go ahead and take a picture with the political figure – but that political figure can not send out a mailing saying, “The BSA supports me, so should you”.

  6. @ Steve Foster – I would think if the debate included (or invited) all candidates for a general (or non-partisan as in your case) election that would be OK. You are supporting the election process, not a candidate or a party. But if it was just one party (i.e. Republic primary) that would be problematic. Just my opinion…

  7. I’m curious why the restriction against wearing the uniform when you go to vote? At least where I live, you are not allowed to campaign for votes within a certain distance of a polling place, so the endorsement of one candidate or another is a moot issue by then.

  8. Is this policy against all uniform pieces? For example, I recently saw someone at a local republican event wearing and eagle scout uniform neck bolo. I told him he probably shouldn’t be wearing it, but he rebuffed me saying it was not full uniform.
    Should he have taken it off, and should he refrain from wearing it in the future?

  9. Pingback: Can Packs, Troops, Teams, or Crews Participate in Political Rallies? | Scout Wire

  10. Am I understanding correctly? It is OK for Boy Scouts to perform the flag ceremony at a Republican US Senate Debate since this service is available to any political party that asks for it. On that same reasoning, is it OK to to have Cub Scouts distribute flyers advertising a Republican Caucus as a part of a weekly den meeting since that service would be available to all other political parties if they asked for it? Is it Ok for Boy Scouts to do the flag ceremony at the Republican Caucus and then help with collecting/distributing ballots? Above it says after performing the flag ceremony the scouts would need to leave or change clothing. It doesn’t seem practical to to do this since they would need to also retire the flag an hour or so later. Wouldn’t it be OK for them to remain seated in the back so they are ready to retire flag or assist with other duties?

    • “is it OK to to have Cub Scouts distribute flyers advertising a Republican Caucus as a part of a weekly den meeting since that service would be available to all other political parties if they asked for it? Is it Ok for Boy Scouts … at the Republican Caucus and then help with collecting/distributing ballots?”

      Seems like a pretty obvious “no.” In providing a color guard, it’s clear the scouts are offering a non-partisan patriotic service.; however, distributing fliers is work on behalf of the campaign(s).

  11. Pingback: BSA Policy Regarding Scouts at Political Rallies | Boy Scouts on Staten Island, NY

  12. This seems to be really flawed logic. My view is that not only should Scouts refrain from participating in partisan politics, as the BSA outlines it, they should refrain from any “appearance” of partisan politics as well. Sure, you may offer a color guard as a service to all, but both the people who attend that political event, and the average person who may see it in the media, won’t know that. All they will see are the Boy Scouts posting colors at a Democratic/Republican rally and infer that the BSA supports that candidate or party.

    If it’s a public debate that involves candidates from various parties, that truly is non-partisan since it’s a public service that promotes citizenship while not promoting a specific political party. But a political rally? Hardly.

    Besides, you’re doing a disservice to your Scouts themselves. Whether they are 12 or 17, they won’t have the maturity to differentiate the intricacies of this issue. Throw in the political affiliation of Scouts’ parents and the potential for an inexperienced Scoutmaster to inject his political views (and we all know they do), and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    Let’s make it black & white: No uniformed participation at partisan political events. Period.

  13. I would like to know why about a dozen BSA were standing at the Mitt Romney’s airplane for photos in full uniform in a show of support for Mitt Romney, no flag in site. Is this not a violation even in Utah?

        • Thanks. I’m far from the expert on this, but that looks to me like a violation of BSA policy. Nothing we can do about that, however, other than tell people to please be cognizant of the message that kind of image sends to the populace.

        • My comment is directed toward Bryan’s response to the photos. Why is there “Nothing we can do about that, however, other than tell people to please be cognizant of the message that kind of image sends to the populace”? Yes, there is something that can be done about it.

          The BSA has a troop number, knows where the photo was taken and what the leader looks like. There should be no trouble at all finding out the identity of that leader. Whether through National or through his Council or District, that leader needs to be contacted directly — for a number of reasons, his toleration of incorrect unforming practices among them — and told he’s violating BSA policy.

          Also, realize those boys didn’t just accidentally find themselves lined up along the bottom of those steps. Someone put them there — probably someone with the candidate’s campaign. This is a recurring problem. Four years ago, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, there were six Scouts and Scouters in uniform standing behind the Senator, in full view of TV cameras. Of course candidates want to be seen with Scouts because of what Scouting represents.

          I think it would be a prudent action for the National BSA to contact both presidential candidates and let them know they should NOT utilize Scouts at their campaign events in any capacity.

    • Allen,
      There was not a scout, or scouter, there in full uniform. Not a single one of them was wearing the official BSA uniform pants. None of them were wearing their neckerchief properly. According to the Insignia Guide, the neckerchief is either worn over a turned under collar or under an open collar, but NEVER over an open collar. You are either in uniform or out of uniform. You either wear the uniform correctly or you are out of uniform. Thus, none of them wer “in full uniform” as you put it. But that is beside the point. Why were they there? Because their leader was unaware of the policy or knew about it and chose to violate it in order for his scouts to meet the candidates.

      • Steve, I think you are missing the point. The policy doesn’t say “full uniform”, it says “uniform”. The uniform shirt is more than enough to make sure that everyone know these are Boy Scouts. And that is clearly a violation of the spirit of the rule. No gray zone here at all.

        And frederickscouter has it right, any clear violation of the policy such as this should have clear and immediate response from National. That troop should have it’s leaders at that event out of scouting permanently.

        • Chuck,
          You missed MY point. Allen said they were in “full uniform”. I was pointing out that they were not in FULL uniform. Nitpicky, but 100% true. I hate seeing scouts wear part of the uniform and be accepted as being in “full uniform”. If you are going to wear the uniform, show it the respect it is due as a symbol of our organization and wear it CORRECTLY.

          Yes, they were in violation of BSA policy. Not debating that. I even acknowledged that in my post.

          Does the leader need to be banned from BSA for life over this? No. Educated on policy? Definately.

  14. I think the bigger picture is getting lost in the “official” details. As scout leaders we are always looking for ways to provide practical, real-world situations for our scouts to learn from. I imagine this event came about with the intention of teaching a troop the importance of being involved in the political process as well as give them a once in a lifetime chance to meet the future President of the U.S. Scout leaders try to promote an awareness of our civic responsiblities and encourage scouts to “get in the game” and participate. How can scouts ever begin to do their duty to country when we tell them to be involved and engaged in furthering the cause of our country, but in the next breath say “but don’t wear your uniform because it might give the impression that you actually support the republican ideals and someone might be offended by that!” Maybe instead of focussing on the fact that their neckerchief is on a little crooked we can see the broader message being taught, that we need to show our “scout spirit” and stand by our public officials of either party and offer our support and encouragement as they try to do their duty to our country by serving in public office despite the great personal sacrifice that is required. That takes courage which is yet another scouting ideal we like to teach!

    • The prohibition against using BSA to advocate any political position or candidate goes back to 1910.

      As a commissioner, I would say If a commissioned leader willfully violates the principle or has members of his unit violate it after being warned about it, he might be subject to having his commission revoked.

      That’s fancy language for being asked to leave Scouting. There are lots of reasons for being asked to leave Scouting beyond violating YPP.

  15. What if a candidate for office (partisan or non-partisan) wants to list his or her Scouting volunteer service as one of their qualifications? Such as “President of Rotary Club…Library Board volunteer…Assistant Scoutmaster…” etc.?

    • That should be fine, since that is merely an individual describing an objective fact about his or her personal experience in the same way that someone would list a particular qualification on a résumé. The important point is that a person listing their experience does not imply that the Scouting organization itself endorses that person’s candidacy. It’s similar to listing a previous employer on your résumé — it says nothing about whether or not that employer endorses you for political office.

  16. So if I want to canvass for a candidate and bring my son with me, he can’t wear his uniform, right? I can see both the pros and cons of that position, but in the end it’s the BSA who decides. Personally I think it says something really positive about the canvasser if their child is in Scouting but I guess it might upset someone who is not a fan of that particular political affiliation.

  17. Since we are taking about National uniform policy, what about people using their position in Scouting advocating for political campaigns? The situation in question involves Richard Bolingbroke, the Commissioner for the San Diego Area Council, writing a Rebuttal to the Argument Against Proposition 8 (in other words, supporting Proposition 8) in the 2008 California election, He specifically stated in his rebuttal that he is representing the Boy Scouts of America in an official capacity. Can someone please tell me if there was any action taken against Mr. Bolingbroke for violating the terms of his office by using his position with the San Diego Area Council to advocate for a political position. The funny thing was in the 2008 election, I had no idea that the BSA had a specific position on the legality of same sex marriage.

  18. I have a question as to the legality of giving a free booth to the boy scouts during a non-political event run by a political party. I would appreciate if someone could point me to the rules specifically to cover this situation and the direct donation from a political party to help the Boy Scouts ie funding the local Soap Box Derby or just providing money for a trip to the local zoo.

    1. A local Cub Scout troop asked for a free booth at our Strawberry Festival. The local Republicans run the festival however no campaigning is allowed. No local, state, or Federal Republican candidate is allowed to campaign, or even wear a name tag that says “Mayor”, Town Council”, Board of Education, or Senator”. Most people think the town runs the event as we only have a small sign that the Strawberry Festival is produced by your local Republican Town Committee. The local newspapers all do stories on the festival and usually say that the Strawberry Festival is produced by the local Republicans. There is a free admission and we sell craft tables and food to make money for the campaign. We offer any civic group in town a free booth. The scouts were going to come and recruit as they have a small Den and sell candy to make money for a trip. It’s a great opportunity as we get 10,000 people over the weekend. The local Democratic Party objected and claimed we were violating a BSA policy even though we had agreed not to take pictures of their booth or any scout or leader or in any way publicize their attendance or use them in our campaign literature. The Cub Scouts pulled out and the leaders had to explain to 10 very upset young men why they were denied the ability to raise money for a trip.

    Should the Cub Scouts have been allowed to have a booth under these circumstances?

    2. Because we were heartbroken for these young men, we decided (The local Republicans) to have a booth at the local town fair (carnival). We sold our Strawberry soda and had a sign at the booth that every dollar raised would be going to this troop. We sold about $1,000 profit of our soda are planning on giving it to the troop with little fanfare. At no time that we were selling the soda was a scout present. However we had a sign at the booth that all proceeds would be donated to the troop. We were campaigning at the booth. The sale of soda was tangential to the campaign. We need to sell something to have a booth and we chose not to keep the money. We also wanted to make up for the fact that they were denied the opportunity to fund raise for themselves.

    Did we violate any BSA rules by giving them money or advertising at the booth that we were giving them money.?

    Thanks for any answers in advance. and again. Where can I get the official rules about political interaction. It seems they all revolve around being in uniform or giving the appearance of the boy scouts supporting a political party. Not of a political party supporting the boy scouts.

    • Cary, this whole thing seems to fall into a gray area. I am not speaking on behalf of the national organization, but I can provide my personal view, based on how I would have handled the situation as a Scout leader…

      I think your closing comments were pretty much on the mark. It’s unreasonable to expect a non-BSA entity to be aware of BSA rules, so in that case, your organization did nothing wrong. It’s up to the Scout leaders to be aware of the rules and avoid potential problem situations, so the den leader and Cubmaster are the ones potentially violating rules, not your group.

      Should the Cub Scout pack have asked to be included in your event? Probably not. You state that it is clearly advertised as being sponsored by the local Republican Party. Moreover, you indicated it was a fundraiser (“… We sell craft tables and food to make money for the campaign.”). Despite the fact it’s a community-related event, your party sponsored it for political purposes (i.e., a fundraiser), which would have been enough of a red flag to keep me from asking my Scouts to be included, had I been in the den leader’s position.

      I’ll also add that if the local Democratic Party was unhappy, their concerns should have been directed to the Scout unit, not you … but we both know that’s not how politics works.

      The second situation you describe is even more convoluted, and contradictory. You start by saying that the party was “heartbroken” over what happened at the festival, so you decided to have a booth at the carnival to sell soda to benefit the den … then you say you used it as a campaigning opportunity and wouldn’t have been able to have the booth had you not sold the soda. It almost sounds as if the soda sales were simply a means to an end. You also say that the money was to be given with little fanfare, yet you advertised to carnival-goers what you intended to do with proceeds. Whatever the reason, it probably would have been better for the party just to quietly make a donation to the den without tying it to the booth sales. I am unaware of any BSA policy that would have prohibited the Cub Scouts from accepting it.

      Those of us in Scouting seem to constantly debate the intricacies of this particular BSA policy, but I think the overall intent of having such a rule is simply to prevent Scouts from becoming pawns in the activities of parties and candidates. Whether intentional or accidental, unfortunately, that seems to be what has happened in this case.

  19. Pingback: When worlds collide: What are Scouts seeing on your Facebook page? « Bryan on Scouting

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