Monday, May 28, 2012

Displaying the Flag: Half-Staff

In raising the flag, it should be hoisted or posted briskly.  Conversely, it is to be lowered or removed ceremoniously, so says Section 6(b) of the Flag Code.  Section 7(m) speaks to when the flag is flown at half-staff.  It should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant, and then lowered to the half-staff position, in tribute.  At the time of lowering, it should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.  More elaborate, though, are the rules related to when half-staff display is appropriate.

On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, and then raised to the top of the staff for the remainder.  The flag is also generally flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day.

The flag is to be flown at half-staff for 30 days from the death of a President or former President; and 10 days from the date of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Lesser times are prescribed upon the death of persons holding other, specific government positions.  Separately, by order of and as instructed by the President, the flag is flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect to their memory” on the death of principal figures of federal government, state governors, or other officials or foreign dignitaries.  A state governor has similar authority within his or her state’s borders for state government officials.  Finally, on June 29, 2007, President Bush signed the “Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007,” which permits state governors to order the flag to be flown at half-staff in tribute to a member of the Armed Forces from that state who dies while serving on active duty.

Question:  I have a small, stationary flag posted at my home, not one that is hoisted and lowered on a flag pole.  This is to say that I cannot fly my flag at half-staff.  Is it appropriate for me to display the flag in this manner on days or on occasions where the flag should be at half-staff?

Answer:  Unfortunately, there is no set law or rule that addresses your question, and you should know that when there are unanswered questions, we always turn to the underlying purpose and significance of the Flag Code, rather than its specifics.  Based on that, our view is that the half-staff rules invoke protocols that are of greater symbolism than mere display, but otherwise elaborate upon the display of the flag generally.  As a result, we view it appropriate for flags that are not capable of being displayed at half-staff to be displayed in any event, in whatever form that may take.  A flag displayed at half-staff is a particularly reverent event, and it in no way cheapens the circumstance to display a flag in the ordinary course that is otherwise incapable of being flown at half-staff.  To the contrary, in its own way, any display of the flag is symbolic.  If done as a tribute to an event which otherwise requires half-staff display, it itself is a tribute to that event.

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