Which side does the American flag go on when marching or at ceremonies?

The American flag isn’t rare, and it’s not made of precious materials. You can buy a nice one for $10.

But still we treat it with reverence and care normally reserved for historic artifacts or priceless works of art. We make sure it’s properly displayed, we fold it neatly and we never let it touch the ground.

Why? Because while its materials are cheap, what it represents is not. The flag’s more than a flag. It’s a symbol of our country’s ideals. It’s a rallying cry for patriotism. It’s a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice of the men and women who fought and died to protect the flag and the people who pledge their allegiance to it.

So, yeah, it deserves to be treated well.

Scouts and Scouters know that. We’re some of the most patriotic people you’ll find. We wear the American flag on our uniforms, and “duty to country” is in our Scout Oath.

It’s this reputation for patriotism that explains why packs, troops, teams, posts, ships and crews are often asked to serve as the color guard at community events. Making sure we respect the flag’s traditions is our obligation.

That’s why JayR Seymour with Pack 24 from Bradford, Mass., contacted me. His pack was asked to serve on the color guard for a Harlem Globetrotters game in a week or so. Here’s what he wrote:

In the next couple of weeks my Webelos den and a few of the Boy Scouts have the opportunity to present the colors at a Harlem Globetrotters game for the national anthem. I think this is a great experience for the boys and wanted to make sure that we are presenting the flags in the correct positioning.

Can you please tell me what is the correct positioning for marching the flags out onto the basketball court for the national anthem?

We are marching the U.S. flag, Mass. state flag, Troop 24 Flag and Pack 24 Flag. I have read some information and it looked like from the information and photos, the U.S. flag should be on the far right (as we march), and should always remain on he right. So when we turn to retire the flags, the Scouts do not just do an about-face, but need to pinwheel so the U.S. flag stays on the right.

Guard/ Pack 24 Flag/ Troop 24 Flag/ MA State Flag/ U.S. Flag/ Guard

I want to make sure what I teach the boys the correct method and do not want to show any disrespect to the men and women in the armed forces who may be in the audience.

You input would be much appreciated.

Well, JayR, merely asking the question means you’re respecting our nation’s military. You’re already ahead of the game because you cared enough to ask. And it seems like you interpret the rules the same way I do. The flag should always be on the color guard’s right when marching it in a line with another flag or flags.

For the source, I’ll direct you to Title 4 of the United States Code, Chapter 1,§ 7 – Position and manner of display. It reads:

The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag’s own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line

Once you’re done marching, I agree that you would pinwheel the flags so that the flag remains on the guard’s right, or the audience’s left. That aligns with paragraph k of that same code:

When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

Speaking of, I got this question from Scouter Jon Uzel:

My son recently passed from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts, to the troop I myself spent most of Scouts in. One of the first things I noticed in the meeting is the fact they have the flags opposite of how we posted them for years. Now I do not want to be “that guy” who shows up and starts “correcting” everything, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s wrong now, or if we had it wrong all those years ago. Can you shed some light on that?

  • Old: American Flag on audience right (SPL’s left)
  • Current: American Flag on audience left (SPL’s right)

Again, in a public auditorium, the flag should be to the speaker’s right, or the audience’s left as they look at the speaker. I would think most Scout meeting rooms and ceremony locations would have a spot for a speaker/leader, so this would apply in pretty much every occasion. So it seems like the “current” way you list above is correct.

Some confusion might exist because at one point some protocol did call for the flag being on the audience’s left. That’s no longer the case, as this post from the National Flag Foundation explains:

Years ago there was a practice (generally in churches) of placing the flag to the left of the speaker, or to the right of the audience, if the flag was on the floor in front of the speaker and between the speaker and the audience. This practice is no longer proper protocol. The flag should be to the left of the audience, defined by the greatest number of people observing it.

Right is right

Just remember, whether marching or setting up an auditorium, right is right — to the color guard’s right and to the speaker’s right.

Hope that clears it up. If anyone has additional insight on flag etiquette, please share it below.


Photo from Flickr:  Some rights reserved by D.Clow – Maryland

About Bryan Wendell 2868 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.