When Does the Flag Fly at Half-Staff?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 12 2001 5:03 PM

When Does the Flag Fly at Half-Staff?

Flags across the country are flying at half-staff as a memorial to those killed in the terrorist attack on the United States. What are the laws governing the lowering of the flag--and is the proper term "half-mast" or "half-staff"?

Dictionaries list "half-mast" (the term first appeared in 1627) as the primary entry, but the U.S. government prefers the newer (1708) "half-staff" when referring to the lowering of the flag as a sign of mourning and respect. According to the federal law governing the displaying of the flag, by presidential order the flag is flown at half-staff upon the death of major officials of the federal government or a state governor. The president also has discretionary powers to lower the flag for lower-level officials or foreign dignitaries. The governors themselves can also order flags in their states to be lowered in honor of the death of current or former officials. While the code is specific about this honor being reserved for government officials, in practice it is used more broadly as a sign of mourning. The method laid out in the law for flying a flag at half-staff is to first raise the flag completely, then lower it to the half-staff position. At the end of the day the flag is again raised briefly before being fully lowered.

Photograph of U.S. flag flying half-staff in Washington, D.C., from Reuters/Corbis.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.