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US Flag - Old Glory

Flag Code? When is it appropriate to fly the US Flag at half mast?
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The other day I felt compelled to call in to one of our local radio stations where Mark Reardon, a (conservative) talk show host, was supporting the New Jersey Governor's decision to order flags lowered to half staff in New Jersey for Whitney Houston's funeral.

After the call I took a few minutes to compose the following editorial and emailed it to him. I've also posted it on facebook.

Servicemen aren't awarded Oscars or Emmys. Why are we even considering awarding a pop star the ultimate patriotic tribute?

It seems to me that it is a very simple issue of respect (for our flag, country and servicemen) and law. I fear that if conservatives can't agree on something as basic as this, then there is little chance on getting agreement on anything complicated.

Sadly, Mark remains unconvinced and said that he is more upset that we lowered the flags for Senator Ted Kennedy than he is with New Jersey's decision to lower the flag for 2 days in patriotic respect "pop artist" Whitney Houston.

US Flag

Old Glory, the flag of the United States of America, is the most recognized and important "Symbol" representing our country, possibly second only to the President of the United States. It is the symbol we fly proudly at our homes, over our capitals, at our embassies, and the symbol that our soldiers reverently, proudly and defiantly carry with them into battle.

When the flag falls in battle, soldiers risk their lives to grab the standard and raise the flag.

And, with no surprise, it is the symbol that our enemies choose to burn and shred in a symbolic destruction of America.

The flag is, arguably, the closest thing to a "religious" symbol that this country has.

As children, we are taught to "remove our hats", "place our hands over our hearts" and then "Pledge Allegiance TO the Flag, of the United States of America". That is "to the flag". Our oath of loyalty and allegiance to the highest "symbol" of this nation.

For Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, Red represented hardiness & valour, while white represented purity. For others, the red stripes represent the blood shed by our military defending the USA while protecting our freedoms.

If you have never seen a military funeral first hand, you owe it to yourself to make an effort to do so. One can not help but be moved to tears at the reverence given to Old Glory by the honor guard. The reverent respect while folding, the strict attention to detail, the consecutive salutes given the flag as it is handed from one honor guard to the next. The way it is carried. The final salute when presenting the flag to the surviving family member. It is virtually impossible to watch this and not realize the significance of the flag.

Congress felt that treatment of the flag was important enough that they wrote the US FLAG CODE in Title 4, Chapter 1 of the US Code. The (quite lengthy) flag code details specifically how to fly, when to fly, when not to fly, when to discard and how to discard of the flag. The flag code details very specific occasions when the flag is to be flown at half staff. The flag code goes on to grant authority, under specific circumstances, to the President of the United States and to the Governor of a state, for ordering the lowering of the flag to half staff.


I think it is clear that everyone agrees the flag is important. The fact that people want to lower the flag for Whitney Houston indicates they feel that lowering the flag is a significant tribute. In contrast, I doubt that anyone would consider paying tribute to Whitney by flying a bed sheet, or bath towel, at half mast.

What we do not agree on, it seems, is the significant level of tribute we are paying, when we dip the symbol that "REPRESENTS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" to half staff.

Lowering the flag to half staff is essentially 'the ultimate patriotic tribute' that can be given. It is a sign of huge respect. It symbolically represents 'the entire country' pausing, in honor, at the passing of someone who has patriotically served their country.


Sadly, I believe we have lost our respect for what the flag represents. I daresay that we have become desensitized by all too frequent flag lowering. I submit that, had we lived 50-100 years ago, we would all be outraged at the way the US Flag is mistreated today.

While I understand that people want to pay tribute to fallen individuals, there is a right way and a wrong way. If a proposed method of tribute is contrary to law and deeply offensive to a significant number of people, I submit that the tribute is probably inappropriate.

The flag should be lowered in respect, to pay tribute, to individuals who have patriotically served their country (as defined by the US Flag Code).

The flag should not be dipped willy nilly for individuals, just because they had the good fortune to become famous, were born into a famous family, or earned 3 oscars and 2 emmys.

And, technically, with no disrespect intended, the US flag should not even be lowered to half staff for individual fallen police and firefighters. There is no exception written into the Flag Code for them. They are not patriotically serving their country. (An exception being given to national emergency situations like 911 which was not about any individual but was a tribute to firemen and policemen who, in this case, were actually patriotically serving their country.)

Yes, many policemen and firemen are heros. Yes, they do a service for the communities in which they serve. Yes, they help protect us. Yes, theirs is a noble profession and some tribute is certainly earned and deserved.

But I note that their service is to the communities, and possibly to the states, in which they live.

The appropriate tribute for them might be to lower the state and local flags, but certainly not the US Flag.


When asked, recently, if the flag code prohibits the New Jersey Governor from ordering the flag lowered for Whitney Houston, I said no, but technically I was wrong.

The flag code specifies that the flag is to be flown at 'full staff' except as otherwise provided for. The flag code does not specifically provide that the Governor may order the flag lowered for anyone other than Government Officials.

Governors who issue executive orders to lower the flag for Whitney Houston, Firemen, Policemen, Cousins or anyone else who was not a Government Official, are writing their own law and are not following the Flag Code.

Good people die every day. Rich people, poor people, famous people and obscure people die every day and are not honored by flag lowering.

Soldiers who have proudly and patriotically served our country, die every day. Yet, governors don't generally issue executive orders to lower the flag statewide for them.

In what manner did Whitney Houston "patriotically" serve our country? What did she do that is deserving of our ultimate patriotic tribute? What did she do that exceeds the contributions of soldiers, who risked their lives to serve our country and preserve our freedoms, and for whom the flag is not lowered?

Do we really have 'more respect' for Whitney Houston than for our patriotic soldiers who die daily?

Do we really mean to say "Famous singers deserve more tribute than the soldiers who risked their lives to give the singer their freedom to be famous" ?

Have we really become so far removed from our roots and history?

Have we really become a materialistic society that gives entertainers more tribute and honor than our fallen soldiers?

If this has not convinced you, then I welcome a conversation over a beer.

To those who have served, I thank you with all my heart and all my respect.