A Guide to Lowering the Flag to Half-Staff

Earlier this year, President Biden issued a proclamation that the flags would be flown half staff in honor of the lives lost to the ongoing pandemic. This proclamation specified who was to lower their flags to half staff and how long they were to remain that way.

If you have a flag pole of your own, you may wonder if these proclamations apply to you. You may also wonder under what circumstances you can choose to lower your flag to half staff without a government proclamation. 

In addition to all these questions, it’s important to note that there are proper protocols for lowering your flag to half staff, as well.

How can you stay on top of all of these different factors? We’re here to help. Read on for our complete guide to lowering your American flag to half staff.

What Is the Significance of a Flag Being Flown at Half Staff?

In the United States, there are several rules, regulations, and customs surrounding the American flag. One that many of us have observed is the lowering of the flag to half staff. What is the significance of doing so?

Lowering the flag to half staff is a sign of mourning, respect, or distress. In many countries, this positioning is referred to as half mast. In the United States, we only say “half mast” if we are referring to flags flown on ships.

Typically, we lower the flag to half staff to honor lives lost and signify that the country or state is in mourning.

Who Is Required to Lower Flags to Half Staff?

The President of the United States may issue a proclamation to lower flags to half staff. These proclamations apply to the entire nation as well as US embassies. More specifically, they apply to flags flown outside of federal buildings or on federal grounds, US navy vessels, and the buildings or grounds belonging to US embassies. 

State governors may also issue a proclamation to lower flags to half staff. Similarly, these proclamations apply only to flags flown outside of that state’s government buildings or on that state’s government grounds.

Private citizens (including homeowners and business owners) may choose to comply with these proclamations. However, they are not required to do so; requiring this would violate our First Amendment rights. We will discuss this more thoroughly in the following sections. 

When Do We Lower the Flag to Half Staff?

There are certain days when lowering the flag to half staff is expected on government properties. These days include:

  • Peace Officers Memorial Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Patriot Day 
  • National Firefighters Memorial Day
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

The president or state governors may also issue proclamations after significant deaths or tragedies. These proclamations are made after the death of significant government figures. For example, we lower the flag to half staff after:

  • The death of the president or former president (flags lowered for 30 days)
  • The death of the current vice president, chief justice, former chief justice, or speaker of the House of Representatives (flags lowered for 10 days)
  • The death of an associate Supreme Court justice, former vice president, or state governor (flags lowered from the day of the death until the day of the burial)
  • The death of a Congress member (flags lowered the day of and day after the death)

Of course, these are not the only instances in which the president or a state governor may issue a proclamation to lower flags to half staff. Other significant deaths are often commemorated this way, including the deaths of significant world leaders. Examples of this include the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and the victims of tragedies such as mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and the ongoing pandemic. 

Can I Lower the Flag on My Personal or Commercial Property to Half Staff?

As we mentioned earlier, it is perfectly acceptable for you to lower your own flag to half staff when the federal or state government does so. You may also lower your flag to half staff to mourn the loss of a significant figure in your own community. For example, private citizens often lower their flags to half staff to mourn the loss of a teacher, religious leader, or community organizer.

If you wish to lower your flag to half staff when a proclamation has not been issued, you are at full liberty to do so. You do not need government authorization to lower the flag on your private property to half staff.

How to Properly Lower Your Flag to Half Staff 

There is a process by which you should properly lower your flag to half staff. In order to show respect, you are expected to follow this process.

First, you are to lower your flag to its highest point for a brief moment before lowering it to the halfway point on your flag pole. You may attach your flag to the second set of rings if you have a telescoping flag pole.

At sunset, you will quickly raise the flag to the highest point once more before bringing it all the way down for the night. Note that on certain days, such as Memorial Day, you are expected to raise your flag back to its highest point at noon and leave it there until sunset. 

Remember that no other flag should fly higher than the American flag. If you have other flags on your property, make sure that they are either lowered to half staff or taken down for the duration. 

Honor the Flag and Show Respect By Lowering to Half Staff

We often see American flags flying at half staff to honor lives lost or significant tragedies in our state, nation, or global community. Now, you can decide when to participate and do so properly with our guide to lowering the American flag to half staff.

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