Flying the U.S. Flag at Half-Staff

As July 4th approaches, I am constantly thinking when does the U.S. Flag get to be flown at half–staff? I was surprised to learn that there is a Flag Code. Until World War I little thought was given to standardizing the display of Old Glory. Then, in 1923, the American Legion and other groups implemented a National Flag Code. It was adopted as a joint resolution of Congress on June 22, 1942, and is now known as the Federal Flag Code. This Code is a set of recommendations and not law: “by order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, as a mark of respect to their memory.” Strictly speaking, these periods of mourning, which are proclaimed by the President, apply only to federal property. But their moral authority usually induces most state and local governments to follow suit.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the decision to fly the U.S. Flag at half-staff ultimately rests with the Governor, but is normally made and carried out by the Superintendent of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance Property Management and Construction.

Can Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston order the U.S. Flag flown at half-staff? Not the U.S. Flag. The Flag Code means no local official, no law enforcement leader, no school district official or business leader can order their U.S. Flag to be flown at half-staff, regardless of the reason. If everyone were to half-staff the US Flag at will, the symbolic value of that honor would be lost; however, state flags, city flags, business flags, school flags or other flags can be lowered to express sorrow and respect for the loss of someone.

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