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All Uniform Right Side U.S. Flag

Is the BSA's U.S. Flag Emblem Backwards?

A LOT of Scouts and Scouters (as well as military people!) have asked me:

Why is the flag displayed with the union to the back of the right shoulder

(I have added this to my Frequently Asked Questions area on my website.)

Your question is a frequently-asked question sent to me; for we not only have Americans involved in the BSA in Puerto Rico, but also on the American Virgin Islands, in American Samoa, and 113 countries and principalities around the world, either part of the Transatlantic, Aloha, or Far East Councils or part of the BSA Direct Service (Council) program:

"Can a scouter, motu proprio, use the flag from a State instead of the American flag without authorization from the local council, BSA Executives or the BSA Board?"

The answer is the same in all cases: no, they cannot. Here is why.

Originally, the U.S. Flag emblem was permitted on the field uniform to ID Scouts and Scouters who participated in international or world Jamboree events. It was not enough to have the strip which states "Boy Scouts of America", but under international policy, the emblem representing the nation of the Scouting association is worn when participating in an international or world Scouting event or Jamboree.

After the BSA hosted the World Jamboree in 1967, many Scouts and Scouters kept those U.S. Flag emblems on their uniform and jac-shirt sleeves. Their friends wanted to wear it also, and so they went down and purchased the flag emblems and worn them also. Books and manuals were revised starting in 1966 with the "optional" wear of the US flag emblem. The BSA responded in 1969 by allowing ALL Scouts and Scouters who desire to do so to wear the US flag emblem on the shoulder (or because by then, the new Cub Scouting program was coming on board, to wear the US flag emblem above the "Cubs-BSA" or "Cub Scouts - BSA" strip on the traditional blue uniform shirts).

Somewhere around the end of the 80s (I can never get an exact date when this occured; I think it was 1987 or 88 -- it is STILL an "overdue item" on my whiteboard back in Minnesota), the BSA's Supply Division (with no guidance from the BSA's National Executive Board) started authorizing the manufacture of Scout shirts with the US flag emblem already sewn on. This presented a problem for the BSA, for the national policy has always been that the flag emblem is OPTIONAL and not required to be worn. A letter to the field (to local Councils) in the early part of 1991 reaffirmed that the US Flag emblem is an OPTIONAL piece of uniforming...and also established that ONLY the US Flag emblem and ONLY those emblem manufactured for wear on the BSA's official uniforms (and in the "wall" facing direction) would be worn.

The BSA finally had to say this in writing because Scouters and some Scouts attending the 1981 National Scout Jamboree were wearing "union jacks", "confederate flags", "greenpeace" and "black pride" flags in the place where the US Flag emblem was to be worn; and other Scouters, good-intentioned they are, were aquiring and wearing larger US Flag emblems featuring the flag worn "in reverse" (or "as flying") on their uniform shirts.

In 1995, the BSA's National Executive Board finally addressed the flag problem by producing a statement which was published in SCOUTING magazine in the early part of 96 but has not been reprinted since: "The wearing of the U.S. flag emblem is OPTIONAL on the part of our Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Explorers, and adult volunteers. Local Councils are not to mandate wearing of the emblem; however the Supply Division will continue to provide uniform shirts with the emblem pre-sewn as a matter of courtesy for the wearer. If the Scout, Explorer or adult chooses not to wear the flag emblem, (my emphasis) *no other flag emblem, insignia, nor device* (end my emphasis) will be worn in that position in its place. If worn, only the U.S. flag emblem authorized by the Supply Division will be worn. Some members wearing the field uniform of the BSA are not American citizens; and certain religious faiths and observances may prevent some members from wearing the emblem of the United States of America."

Why hasn't this made its way to the BSA's Insignia (Control) Guide? To be honest, I don't know why. There's a LOT of things which the BSA has chosen not to place within its uniform guide, and this is a biggie. I've asked the BSA's Supply Group (which oversees the Insignia folks) to place the NEB statement in the booklet, if for no other reason than to advise Scouts and Scouters of those faiths and religious groups that they do NOT have to wear the flag emblem...I get "it'll be placed in a future edition of the Guide" and nothing more...

That's the whole background on the U.S. Flag emblem, Edgardo. I've had Scouters and Scouts from Germany and the Netherlands asking the same question, because they are a part of an international unit and like the BSA acknowledges, not all BSA members are American citizens and don't feel good about wearing the US flag emblem and would much rather wear their own country's emblem. A suggestion which I made earlier was to wear the flag emblem of Puerto Rico centered on the right pocket of the field uniform or the jac-shirt...as that location is an individual's decision to wear.

And thank you for asking me!!

In 2013 and again in 2014, the BSA's Magazine blog "Byran on Scouting" addressed this issue and people went round and round with the placement of the Flag emblem and why or why not it should be redesigned to look more like the military's right shoulder U.S. flag emblem. A staffer within the BSA's Program Group answered this issue once and for all; here's Peter Self's posting:

As you can imagine, we are frequently asked why the patch of the United States flag, as worn on the right should of the official BSA uniform, has the blue field of stars (known as the canton) in the upper left hand corner, and it is worn facing the opposite direction by members of the US Army. There are really two parts to this question.

The first question is “What gives each of these organizations the right to wear the flag as a part of their uniform?” This permission is granted in Title 4 of the US Code, which is often referred to simply as the Flag Code. Under § 8, paragraph (j) it states:

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”

I think we can agree that members of the Boy Scouts of America have permission to wear the patch as members of a patriotic organization.

While Title 4 gives several examples of how the flag is to be displayed when used in ceremonies, during meetings, in parades, in auditoriums, or even at funeral services. It does not cite a single example of how the flag should appear when worn as a patch or affixed to an article of clothing. All we are given is the permission to wear it as noted above. In the absence of any specific direction, we can only assume it should be worn in the same fashion as described in numerous other paragraphs, which is with the canton at the upper left corner.

Why then does the US Army wear it in reverse fashion? That answer can be found in US Army Regulation 670-1, Chapter 28, Section 18, which states:

“The full-color U.S. flag cloth replica is worn so that the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the reverse side flag.”

This statement in the Army regulations appears to be the only written description of how a patch of the flag should be worn, which makes it unique to the U.S. military. Of course this begs the question, “Can the Boy Scouts of America adopt the same policy?”

The answer to this question can be found in Article X, Section 4, Clause 4, Paragraph (b) of the Rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America. Here we find the following:

“Imitation of United States Army, Navy or Marine Corps uniforms is prohibited, in accordance with the provisions of the organizations Congressional Charter.”

Because the reverse side flag is unique to the military, it would be considered an imitation of the uniform and is therefore prohibited.

I hope this helps clear up the difference, and once again thank you for your dedication and service.

– Peter Self, team leader, youth development, program impact and council operations, BSA

Here's the bottom line and additional background information:

  • The Boy Scouts of America makes wearing of the U.S. Flag insignia an OPTIONAL ITEM. It has been this way since 1957, when the U.S. flag emblem was first added as a piece of BSA insignia in advance of the World Jamboree in Idaho in the early 60s.
  • With the introduction of the new WEBELOS Cub Scout program, the BSA BRIEFLY allowed for the U.S. Flag emblem to be worn above the "Cub Scout", "Cubs - BSA" or "Boy Scouts of America" strip on the BLUE CUB SCOUT UNIFORM ONLY. This allowance was made because the WEBELOS badge colors would be worn along the top edge of the right shoulder; and if a person wore a flag emblem there, the badge colors would cover it up. More information.

  • The Boy Scouts of America's National Uniform and Insignia Committee established HOW and WHERE the U.S. Flag insignia would be worn IF a Scout or Scouter chose to wear it on the official uniforms. It is worn on ALL UNIFORMS as the top-most piece of insignia on the RIGHT SHOULDER and no other location on an official BSA uniform, to include the red or blue jac-shirt and their lighter weight jackets. The Committee determined that since the U.S. Code does NOT specifically address the direction the flag should beworn on an article of clothing, that the flag would be worn as if you are looking at that flag from afar, with the stars to the rear.
  • The Boy Scouts of America has NO PLANS to alter that flag emblem; and Scouts and Scouters should wear the U.S. Flag emblem as displayed in the BSA's Insignia (Control) Guide.
  • With regard to "who's right," since the U.S. Code does not place in writing how our national flag would be worn on a uniform, both the military and the BSA (and other organizations) are absolutely correct. Each organization sets their own uniforming policies and it is NOT dictated by "congress" nor by anyone else other than that organization. Note that while the BSA is chartered through an act of Congress, that the BSA is free to provide their own policies concerning uniform and insignia wear without Congress' input (and this is a GOOD THING)!!
  • Finally, Scouts and Scouters should be proud to wear our nation's flag on the uniform, but not all Scouts and Scouters can do this. So let's not be forcing kids and adults to do something which is against their moral or religious upbringing, okay?? There are several religious organizations and faiths who do NOT allow their members to wear anything which symbolizes an alliegence toward. These faiths and organizations believe that "God" or "Allah" is more important than "country" -- and this is EXACTLY WHY the BSA does NOT and WILL NOT make the wearing of the U.S. Flag emblem MANDATORY.
  • Hope that all of these points helps you and your Scouts in coming to grips with "why do the military wear the flag "one way" and we in Scouting wear the flag "the other way".

    (and for the record, I'm wearing my military desert battle uniform with the American flag *backwards* as prescribed by military policy!)


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