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Presenting the Colors—how to conduct a flag ceremony indoors

Yesterday I received an email through the contact page asking:

Can you tell me if there is a ceremonial procedure for carrying the flag from one end of a room to another for posting prior to the start of a meeting?

I sent an answer to CD, but my response bounced right back to me. There’s a server problem on the other end, and CD may not even know it. I want to answer here, and hope that CD sees it.

We often think that we need people in uniforms (Boy Scouts, ROTC, et cetera) to present the colors, and certainly that is a traditional and customary way to do it, but any of us can present the colors. I’m sure the Daughters of the American Revolution must do their own flag presentations. To my knowledge, there are no specific rules within the U.S. Code on how to present the colors. So this is my suggestion, and it relies heavily on military tradition and instructions for Boy Scout.

The person in charge of the event should ask all there to please stand. "All rise," and when everyone is standing (who are able), then "Color Guard, please present the colors."

The U.S. flag is always carried aloft and free, never flat or horizontally. If the U.S. flag is the only flag carried, it should have an honor guard to its left, or two honor guards, one on each side.

When carried with other flags, as in a straight line abreast, the U.S. flag is carried on its own right side—all the way to the right—of other flags.

Sometimes when a lot of flags (usually five or more) are carried, then the U.S. flag is positioned in the center and in front (one or two steps) of the other flags, or the other flags are carried slightly lower than the U.S. flag so that the U.S. flag is prominent.

DKH_21If a state flag is presented too, then the state flag is positioned to the immediate left of the U.S. flag, then civic, club, or corporate flag to the left of the state flag (and those are determined by chronological order of their historic or original charter—just like state flags).

As the color guard comes down the approach, the flag stands having been pre-positioned, the party will slow or even come to a stop. The U.S. flag goes first, turning left and crossing in front of the other flags and is placed first into the flag stand, then the other flags go in order after that.

Frequently the U.S. flag will be on the one side (the right side as it faces the audience) of the stage or platform, with the state flag on the other side, but they don’t have to be separated. Just remember that the U.S. flag is always to the right of the arrangement when in final position and facing the audience.

Usually in a group setting, everyone will salute the flag at the beginning and hold it until the flags are returned to the flag stands (and Boy Scouts will be given the order to salute), but if the venue is large, then one salutes the flag as it passes abreast of your position, and holds the salute until the flag has cleared your position.

All the usual and customary rules apply for saluting.

In a Boy Scout flag ceremony, the Scouts will recite the Pledge of Allegiance before "posting" the colors, or putting the flag back into the flag stand. The color guard will be facing the audience and the person in charge of the event will say (for example), "Will you please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance." When finished, the flags will be inserted into the flag stands.

But the flags could be placed first, and then recite the Pledge. Depending on the ceremony, someone might be invited on-stage to lead the Pledge, which would be a lovely way of giving special recognition.

Here is an entry on The Daily Flag from February 5, 2008, that links to a color guard ceremony in Hawaii that is uncomplicated and beautiful.

The image used above comes from

22 thoughts on “Presenting the Colors—how to conduct a flag ceremony indoors

  1. Thank you for showing respect to our Nations Flag.


  2. Thank you for writing, Nathan.

  3. I was looking for a flag ceremony for my Brownie Troop – Thanks for the help!

  4. Julie, I’m glad we could help.

  5. Thank you for the information. I’m the oldest vetern in my congregation and have been asked to present the colors on July 4th’s service. It has been 42 years since I’ve served in the US Army and I still have such a love for my flag and country that I wanted to do this service with all the proper decorum possible. Your information was extremely valuable to me and very apprecited. Tammi

    1. You are most welcome, Tammi. I know it will be a splendid ceremony. Best Wishes, Deborah

  6. When a drum band is being used to set the beat for a “parade” Freedom Walk. Where does the drum band position – to lead the parade or to go behind the color guard?

    We have two veteran color guards and a Jr ROTC. Which group should position first?

    1. Hi Judy—thank you for writing. The color guard always leads the parade. By order of precedence, an active duty military color guard takes top billing, but would not show up at a “civilian” parade without an invitation. It would be an extreme breach of protocol for a military color guard to be invited and not lead the parade. Second in order of precedence is an ROTC unit, and after that would be a junior ROTC unit, because these groups are considered “active.”

      For the purposes of your Freedom Walk parade, the Jr. ROTC unit should officially be the color guard and lead the parade, with the drum band following directly behind. If there were no “active” units to carry the colors, then one of the veterans groups could carry the colors.

      The veterans organizations hold Congressional charters and are 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, and as such are militarily de-activated. The U.S. State Department orders their precedence by the dates of their parent organizations’ Congressional charters. For example, the American Legion organized before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the local level, if there were two VFW posts marching (for example), the oldest local charter would march first. When in doubt, the date of Congressional charter rules.

      However, at the local level, and with a parade that may occur year after year, it is common to rotate the various veterans organizations each year so they have an opportunity to march first. Careful recording-keeping is a always a good idea.

      Here is a link to another article with comments, which you may find useful. Best Wishes, Deborah

  7. When carrying the US flag on an indoor ceremony does the US flag enter on the right of the room and the state flag on the left. And when the colors are posted would the be on the right of the speaker or the left on stage. And does the flag cross in front of the audience how should they cross. Should it be the US flag by the speaker and the state flag by the audience.

    1. I apologize for the delay, Danny—I have been out of town.
      The flags should be carried together—side by side—and marched in the most direct line possible to the front of the venue. The flag stands will be pre-positioned. When the flag bearers reach the front of the room, the person carrying the state flag will slow down a bit (march in place for a step or two) and the person carrying the U.S. flag will cross in front of him (her) moving to the left, and proceed to the front and the flag pole stand. You can place the flags at the outermost edges of the “stage.” The U.S. flag, as it faces the audience, should be on the right, with the state flag facing the audience from the left side of the stage. This article has more information that you might find useful.

  8. 1. In a program of The Four Chaplains, using a Post Commander, a Sergeang-At-Arms and a four person Color guard; does the Commander (already positioned behind the podiom) give the command “Advance and Post the Colors” to the Sergeant-At-Arms? Does the Seargeant-At-Arms take over at that time, and then give the Color Guard orders as to continue the Posting?
    2. On entering the sanctuary, does the Searge-At-Arms enter before the Color Guard and position himself with his back to the Commander while he(Sergeant-At-Arms) advances the Colors?
    3. When you have program actors (life jacket receivers (4), gloves receiver (1), and the Chaplains (4); do they have to exit after the Colors exit, or can they salute the colors as they exit leaving the Seargeant-At-Arms to retire the Colors, to follow them out?

    1. I’m sorry for the delay in answering your questions. This falls way outside my scope of knowledge. Let me suggest that you directly contact The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation and ask them.

      I’m sure someone there can guide you, and answer all your questions about conducting the ceremony.

      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

  9. The photo you have posted in this article and on various web sites showing 4 flags with all of them tilted forward I believe is incorrect. The American Flag should be straight up and down and not tilted forward with the other flags. This is how we were trained when I was on a color guard squad at the USAF NCO Academy.

    1. Stan, thank you for writing. The military does indeed have specific instructions regarding the display of the American flag, but for civilians, the wording from the Flag Code is simple:
      Sec. 7. Position and manner of display
      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.

      Certainly a civilian Color Guard could carry the flags in the manner that you have described, but the Flag Code (a document written for civilians) does not specifically call for that configuration. Permit me note here: veterans service organizations (VSOs) such as the American Legion and the VFW are 501(c)(3) organizations—civilians, in other words—and while a VSO may choose to use a Color Guard that carries the flags in a traditional military style, they have the liberty to do otherwise. And in recent years I have noticed that the Color Guard with a center forward position for the American flag is being used less and less.

      Thank you again for writing.
      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

  10. I am worship chairman for our civilian church. We have many retired military members inc. my husband in our congregation. We have had flag ceremonies on many occasions. My question is: can anyone carry the flag in a flag ceremony held at our church. Does that person have to have served in the military? Can women or children be part of the color guard?

    1. Hi Pam, Thank you for writing. Yes, anyone can carry the Colors—women, children, an individual family (which would be sterling, in my opinion). Any combination is permissible. The Flag Code does not address Color Guards at all, but as long as you follow standard flag protocol (U.S. flag marches on its own right, et cetera) and no disrespect is shown to the flag, you’ll be fine. The Colors should be announced, but are carried in silence (or to a drum cadence). The only music we salute (render honors to) is the National Anthem, and the Colors are not in motion during the National Anthem. All other rules for saluting the flag apply. (While the Colors are carried in a parade, they go first, and the music is behind them).
      Best wishes, Pam.
      Deborah Hendrick

  11. We are working on a flag ceremonies with my Girl Scout troop. For our indoor ceremony, can we post the colors into flag stands before the pledge? For an outdoor ceremony with a flag pole can we raise the flag then say the pledge? Does the color guard join in the salute & pledge since the colors are already posted?

    1. Hi Johanna. Thank you for writing. Yes—Yes—Yes.
      Yes, wait until the Colors are posted to say the Pledge (but salute the flag as it passes by your position, then take down your hand). Outside, Scouts should salute as appropriate while the flag is being raised on the pole. The Color Guard steps back, the Pledge is announced and everyone salutes together and says the Pledge together.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  12. When an american legion post conducts a funeral, what are the requirements of the color guards? Are they just average citizens or are they military servicemen? Can anyone put on these uniforms and pretend to be a veteran?

    1. Membership in the American Legion is open to all military veterans and Merchant Marines. I am unfamiliar with how an American Legion color guard might conduct a funeral, but I am certain that they very carefully follow a precise plan, in conjunction with the wishes of the family. While someone could fake being a member of the American Legion—and thus pass as a veteran, I suspect any American Legion post where this occurred would very quickly discover it, and deal appropriately with the fraud.

      Paula, thank you for writing and I hope this helps.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrik

  13. Could you clarify a question for me? I always thought that during an indoor flag ceremony, when the US Flag and Unit flag cross, the US Flag crosses in front of the other flag from the perspective of the audience. I attended a BSA meeting last week, where the US Flag crossed behind the other flag from the audiences perspective. Which is correct?

    1. Hi Chris—thank you for writing. Nah, the Scouts messed up. If the flags are in motion, and the U.S. flag is (properly) on the right, it crosses in front of the unit flag. It may have been an accident—if there were guests at the meeting the boys might have been jumpy. A quiet conversation with the Troopmaster might be in order.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

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