Who Determines When to Fly the American Flag at Half-Staff?

Have you wondered who, exactly, determines when it’s appropriate to fly the American flag at half-staff? While the American flag is typically flown all the way at the top of the pole on which it’s mounted, there are certain occasions during which it’s flown just halfway up the pole. Known as half-staff, it’s a traditional used to display the official flags of many countries, including the United State’s flag. Unless you’re familiar with the U.S. Flag Code, though, you might be wondering who has the authority to determine when the American flag is flown at half-staff.

Flying the American Flag at Half-Staff Following the Death of a President or Government Figure

For decades, there was no specification law or regulation dictating when the American flag should be flown at half-staff. It wasn’t until March 1, 1954 when former President Dwight Eisenhower proposed new legislation for flying the American flag at half-staff. On this date, President Eisenhower said that the American flag should be flown at half-staff for a total of 30 days on all federal properties — schools, post offices, tax departments, city planning departments, military bases, etc. — following the death of a president.

The legislation also states that the American flag should be flown at half-staff for a total of 10 days following the death of a vice president, chief of justice or speaker of the House of Representatives.

The President Determines When the American Flag Is Flown at Half-Staff

Back to the original question, it’s the current U.S. president who determines when the American flag is flown at half-staff. He or she has exclusive authority to proclaim that the American flag should be flown at half-staff following the death of a government official — current or former — or other events.

The U.S. Flag Code specifically states the following about flying the American flag at half-staff:

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, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.”

There are holidays on which it’s appropriate to fly the American flag at half-staff, such as Independence Day and Memorial Day. However, the current U.S. president has the authority to declare other dates for flying the American flag at half-staff.

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