This is a legacy post dated 7/3/2018.

We all know the sadness of events that result in flying the flag at half staff.  But have you ever wondered how the decision to fly the flag at half staff is made?

Fun fact:  flags are said to be half-mast if flown from ships and half-staff if on land.
Note: For more information and current flag lowering orders, click <here>
Note: To receive notifications when Wisconsin half-staff orders are issued <Click here>

In the US, the President can order the flag be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government (and others) to  respect their memory as follows: 

  • For thirty days after the death of a current or former president or president-elect.
  • For ten days after the death of a current vice president, current or retired chief justice, or current Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • From the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a secretary of an executive or military department, a former vice president, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, or the governor of a state, territory, or possession.
  • On the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.
  • On Memorial Day until noon.
  • Every September 11 in remembrance of the September 11 attacks.
  • Upon presidential proclamation, usually after the death of other notable figures or tragic events.

When ordered, all government buildings, offices, public schools, and military bases are to fly their flags at half-staff. Because the flags of states, cities, and localities are  never to be placed above the flag of the United States all other flags also fly at half-staff when the U.S. flag has been ordered to fly at half-staff.

Governors of U.S. states and territories are authorized by federal law to order all U.S. and state flags in their jurisdiction flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for a former or current state official who has died, or for a member of the armed forces who has died in active duty. 

The governor may proclaim that the flag be flown at half-staff upon the death of a present or former state government official or a member of the armed forces. When the order concerns a military death, flags at federal facilities within the state “shall be flown at half staff consistent with that proclamation.

Municipal and county governments, public and private schools, private businesses and individuals should also lower their flags to half-staff by order of the governor, but that is a guideline, not a matter of law for private individuals and organizations.

The governor’s authority to issue the order is more restricted than the president’s, and does not include discretion to issue the order for state residents who do not meet the criteria stated.  Since a governor’s executive order affects only his or her state, not the entire country, these orders are distinguished from presidential proclamations.

(Proudly) Flying the Flag