Murfreesboro FAQ: Who has the authority to order a flag be flown at half-staff?

Jul 10, 2020 at 01:53 pm by Michelle Willard

The U.S. Flag
The U.S. Flag

After Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland ordered flags to fly at half-staff at City Hall Friday in honor of musician Charlie Daniels who died June 6 from a stroke, we received several requests asking if a municipal mayor has the authority to make such an order.

According to the U.S. Flag Code, the President or state governors can order the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff "upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government a mark of respect to their memory." 

Further, "in the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law."

Governors can also order the flag be flown at half-staff "in the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty."

The code expressly given authority to the mayor of the District of Columbia (probably because it has no state and therefore no governor) to order flags be flown at half-staff.

Thus, according to the U.S. Flag Code only the President or governors can order flags be flown at half-staff to honor someone's memory. The only exception is the mayor of Washington D.C.

What does half-staff mean?

The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the halfway point on the flag pole. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. 

It should then be fully raised again the next day with the exception of the death of a president (30 days); Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; for an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor from the date of death until interment; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. 

On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. On Peace Officers Memorial Day, the flag shall be flown at half-staff on 

Note: The term half-mast refers to flags flown on ships. Half-staff is the correct term for land-based flags.

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