Surf City to Develop Borough Guidelines for Lowering of American Flag

Sep 19, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Surf City Borough Council last week agreed to lower the American flag on Sept. 11, something it didn’t do this year, and come up with other dates Old Glory should fly at half-staff in the seaside community. The decision to do so came after borough resident Pete Williams questioned officials on why the flag outside town hall wasn’t lowered for 9/11 or when Sen. John McCain passed away last month. He said the flag position in the borough was inconsistent with other communities on the barrier island and with the borough fire company, which is located across the street from town hall.

“Lowering it isn’t the problem,” Mayor Frances Hodgson said, noting no one on the council is opposed to lowering the flag under the appropriate conditions. “Who makes the call?”

“The ball is in your court,” Williams replied.

But is it really? Police Chief Jack Casella said lowering of the flag generally comes from an executive order from either the president of the United States or a state governor, depending on the circumstances. That’s affirmed by the guidelines from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, which says “an easy way to remember when to fly the United States flag at half-staff is to consider when the whole nation is in mourning.”

It goes on to say those periods of mourning are proclaimed by the president for national remembrance, – certainly 9/11 qualifies – or the governor of a state or territory, in the event of the death of a member or former member of the federal, state, local or territorial government or judiciary. The flag can also be ordered to be flown at half-staff on building, grounds and naval vessels by department heads and agencies of the federal government. The only requirement is that the site falls under their jurisdiction.

“On Memorial Day, the flag should be flown half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes,” according to the federal agency’s online resources on the issue.

In addition to Memorial Day, the American flag is to be flown at half-staff on May 15, Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless it coincides with Armed Forces Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day; and Sept. 11, Patriot Day.

Under a March 1954 proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the flag should fly at half-staff for 30 days at all federal buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States and its territories and possessions after the death of the president or a former president. The flag is to be flown for 10 days at half-staff after the death of the vice president, the chief justice or a retired chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, or the speaker of the House of Representatives, according to the proclamation.

“For an associate justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the Cabinet, a former vice president, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the majority leader of the Senate, the minority leader of the Senate, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, or the minority leader of the House of Representatives,” the proclamation reads, “the flag is to be displayed at half-staff from the day of death until interment.”

Eisenhower's declaration also mandates the flag be lowered to half-staff at all federal buildings, grounds and naval vessels in the Washington, D.C., area on the day and day after the death of a U.S. senator, representative, territorial delegate, or the resident commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It should also be flown at half-staff on all federal facilities in the state, congressional district, territory or commonwealth of those officials.

“Upon the death of the governor of a state, territory or possession,” according to the proclamation, “the flag should be flown at half-staff on all federal facilities in that governor’s state, territory or possession from the day of death until interment.”

For reasons of solidarity, the president may order the flag to be flown at half-staff to mark the death of other officials, former officials or foreign dignitaries. In addition to these occasions, the president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events, according to the federal veterans agency.

— Gina G. Scala

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