A few months back we took a look at the most common days on which you can, and should, fly your American-made flag — that is, if you’re not already flying them every day like many of our customers do! (The first blog that covers January to June, called “Buy American Flags Online And Fly Them On These Days,” can be found here. The second blog covering July to December, is called “When Will You Fly Your American-Made Flag?” is right here.)
If you’re flying your flag every day, that’s great so long as it remains well-lighted and you’re not flying it in the rain (unless it’s an all-weather flag). But do you know when you should be flying your flag at half-staff? A lot of people don’t, since “why are flags at half-staff today?” is a very common question that people Google.
What Does The Flag Code Say?
We hesitate to even get into this! The United States Flag Code is law, but it’s not enforced. You might at first think that the flag code should always be enforced, but you might change your mind when you realize that you’re probably breaking it in some way right now. (For instance, you shouldn’t have the flag as part of any clothing unless it’s an actual flag patch.) So with the Flag Code not always being enforced, when you should and should not fly a flag at half-staff can be up for debate.
Today we’re going to take a look at the most common times that people choose to fly a flag at half-staff (aka half-mast, though that usually refers to a flag on a ship). While it’s not something that should be taken lightly, it is something that has undergone a number of changes over the years and has few legal dictates or ramifications.
The President Decides
In general, the President of the United States can issue an executive order regarding when a flag should be flown at half-mast. This order extends to all government buildings, public schools, and military bases.
Ordering flags to be flown at half-staff is usually done for the death of a prominent government figure. The American flag is flown at half-staff for:
- 30 days after the death of the sitting president, former president, or president-elect. (George H.W. Bush received this honor just eight months ago.)
- 10 days after the death of the current vice president, speaker of the House of Representatives, or current or retired chief justice.
- From the day of death until burial of a former vice president, secretary of a military department, associate justice of the supreme court, or the governor of a state or territory of the United States.
- The day of and the day after the death of a member of Congress
- The death of notable figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (As we write this article, the most recent order to lower flags to half-staff was issued just a week ago for former Supreme Court Justice and Bronze Star recipient John Paul Stevens.)
- The death of a prominent global figure. Examples include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paull II.
The president can also declare days of mourning for tragic events, such as after a plane crash or school shooting has occurred. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7) and Patriot Day (September 11) are observed with half-staff flag flying on a yearly basis.
Memorial Day (Until Noon)
Memorial Day has a very specific flag flying procedure. The American flag is raised briskly to the top of the flag pole and then solemnly lowered to half-staff. It remains at half-staff until noon. At noon it is raised to the top once again, where it remains until sunset.
Where did this custom come from? No one knows for sure, but it’s been a custom for more than 110 years. The half-staff status in the morning honors those who have fallen in battle, while the full flag honors those veterans who are still living. If you’d like to read a little bit more about it, click here.
State governors have the authority to order state government buildings to fly their flags at half-staff for state-centric reasons. For instance, if a former governor dies, it’s very likely that half-staff day will be proclaimed. Servicemen who died during active duty might be honored in such a way, as well as notable politicians.
When it comes to communities, nothing prevents them from suggesting that non-government entities — such as citizens or businesses — place their flag to half-staff. They might do this to honor local heroes or community leaders. It’s important to remember that this is just a suggestion and that county officials or mayors have no official capacity to order such a practice.
Close To Home
It’s important to remember that flying a flag is a form of free speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. You are free to fly your flag at half-staff for any occasion you deem appropriate. If you have had a death in the family, especially if it is the death of someone who served, you have every right to do so. We only ask that you save personal instances of half-mast flying for very special occasions as to honor the solemnity of the practice.
While some people might take issue with your decision to fly a flag at half-staff for personal reasons, we see no reason why you shouldn’t do it as long as you have thoroughly thought it through.
Are You Ready To Fly Your Flag?
As you can see, it’s not always easy to know when to fly your flag at half-staff. Doing so after an executive order certainly makes sense, as does flying it at half-staff on September 11 and until noon on Memorial Day.
If you’re not ready to fly your flag yet and need flag pole installation, ND Flag Pole Guy is here to help. We’ll get you your flag pole and your Made In America American flags so that you can fly your flags at all appropriate times. Click here to schedule an appointment with us today!