Paying Respect: Why Do Flags Fly at Half Staff?

Have you ever wondered why flags are lowered to half-staff? The  American flag is a powerful symbol representing the nation's values, history, and aspirations. While it is often flown with pride and reverence, there are times when it is lowered to half-staff as a solemn sign of mourning, respect, or solidarity.

But who has the authority to make such a powerful proclamation? Although the act of flying the flag at half-staff may seem straightforward, some specific rules and protocols dictate when and how it should be done. According to the US government, only the President, through a presidential proclamation, a state governor, or the mayor of the District of Columbia, can order flags to be flown at half-staff. This is because deciding to lower the flag is not taken lightly and should be carefully considered.

Whether you are a proud American, a student of history, or someone who wants to honor the memory of those who served their country, understanding when and why the American flag is flown at half-staff can deepen your appreciation of this enduring symbol of freedom and unity.

Half Staff at the State Level

There are a few reasons why a  state flag might be flown at half-staff. One of the most common is to honor the passing of a government official or public figure who has made significant contributions to the state or the nation. This could include a governor or other elected official, as well as a member of the military or law enforcement who has sacrificed their life in the line of duty.

Another reason a state flag might be flown at half-staff is to commemorate a national or state tragedy. This could include events such as the Oklahoma City bombing or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It could also include natural disasters that have caused significant loss of life or property damage, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes.

To be considered "worthy" of flying the flag at half-staff, an individual must have made significant contributions to the state or nation or suffered significant losses. This can include individuals who have sacrificed their lives in service to the country, as well as those who have made significant contributions to society through their work in government, the arts, or other fields.

In general, the decision to fly the flag at half-staff at the state level is made by the governor of the state. The governor may issue an executive order declaring that the flag should be flown at half-staff for a specified period or until further notice. The order may also specify why the flag is being flown at half-staff, and may include instructions for how long the flag should remain that way.

Half Staff at the National Level

While the president may choose to make a national proclamation for many of the same tragedies that a state governor may choose to lower flags, the individuals who receive national half staff proclamations after their death are usually a significantly ranked public servants, such as a former or current president, vice president, or other government official. The flag may also be flown at half staff in the event of a national tragedy, such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

The president will also make national half-staff proclamations on recurring holidays, such as  Memorial Day, Peace Officers Memorial Day, Fallen Firefighters Day, and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. While these specific holidays aren’t always national days of mourning, it is still customary for the president to make a proclamation for them yearly.

The decision to fly the American flag at half staff on the national level can only be made by the president of the United States. The POTUS will include information on how long the flag should remain lowered in these presidential proclamations.

A Powerful Symbol

It is important to note that flying a flag at half-staff is a sign of respect and should not be taken lightly. It is a solemn tribute that is meant to honor those who have made significant contributions to the state or nation or who have suffered significant losses. As such, it is important to follow proper protocol when flying a flag at half-staff, and to ensure that it is done in a respectful and dignified manner.

Though any proclamation or executive order is only mandatory for government buildings, many Americans join in solidarity. You can stay in the know by signing up for our  FREE half-staff alerts.

Flying a flag at half-staff is a time honored tradition in the United States. It respects individuals who have contributed significantly to the state or nation or suffered significant losses. While the decision to fly a flag at half-staff is not required for citizens, it is an impactful way to show respect and honor to those who have made a difference in our world.

Feb 26, 2023 Alexis C.

Recent Posts