When are Flags Put at Half Mast?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Like many other nations, the United States flies its national flag at half mast or half staff as a sign of mourning and respect for prominent national figures who have passed away such as former Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Governors, and Members of Congress. Like other activities having to do with the American flag, half masting the flag is governed by the United States Flag Code, which also covers other issues of flag etiquette like how the American flag should be displayed, when it can be flown, and how flags should be handled. Many nations have a similar flag code which is designed to set out rules for the respectful treatment of the national flag.

The United States Flag Code only governs the display of the American flag within the United States. Overseas, the flag should be displayed in accordance with other national flag codes, which often have restrictions on the heights at which foreign flags can be displayed. When flying the flag at half mast, citizens should be aware that the Flag Code designates how the flag should be displayed in this manner, but not when. Federal mandates flag positions only apply to federal agencies, although state agencies and citizens are encouraged to follow suit.


On the federal level, the President of the United States issues orders about when the flag shall be flown at half mast. Common instances when the flag is flown in this way include the death of a former President, in which case the flag is half masted for 30 days, the death of a Vice President, Chief Justice, or Speaker of the House, when the flag is half masted for 10 days, and the death of other prominent political figures, which is usually accompanied by a single day of flying in this manner. The only day of the year in which the American flag is required to fly at half mast is Memorial Day.

On the State level, a state Governor can issue an order to fly the flag at half mast as well, for many of the same reasons that the President does. When the President issues an order to fly the flag in this way, state Governors usually supplement it with a directive to state agencies. The Governor may also decide to fly the flag at half mast to commemorate the death of a well known figure within the state, or for a state day of mourning.

To fly the American flag at half mast, it is first raised all the way to the top of the flag pole and then lowered to the mid point. At the end of the day, the flag is raised to the top of the flagpole before being lowered all the way. On Memorial Day, the flag is only flown at half mast for half of the day: at noon, the flag is raised all the way. Because the American flag within the United States must always fly higher than other flags, flags of states and other nations are usually half masted as well. If two flags are flown on pole, the American flag should as usual be above the other flag.


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Discuss this Article

Post 17

It's not unheard of for the president to order flags flown at half-mast following the death of a legitimate head of state, even if that head of state is not especially popular. It's a display of respect for the office, not necessarily the person who held it. Sometimes flags fly at half-mast for a different reason, but people assume it's for an unpopular world figure like Cesar Chavez. It could just be a coincidence.

Post 16

Why are we flying our flag at half mast for Caesar Chavez of Venezuela?

Post 13

Only flags on US Navy ships can be flown at half mast as only ships have masts. All others are flown at half staff.

Post 12

@anon143349: In my opinion (not a flag etiquette expert) the US flag can be lowered to half-staff by itself during a time of national mourning. I believe the etiquette rule of not having foreign flags above the US flag is more applicable to a single flag pole display with multiple flags. Other countries may not even have their own half-staff observations, so lowering all of those flags might be seen as an empty gesture. I would say if one of those countries had a similar period of national mourning, lowering their flag to half-staff would be appropriate.

Under the circumstances surrounding a national period of mourning, I believe most observers would understand the sight of a US flag flying at

half-staff while the other flags remained at full staff. The usual federal order to lower the flag to half-staff is generally limited to the US flag, anyway. Since any other flag on the same pole is below it, they could be removed for the duration.
Post 11

I usually fly my flag at all US holidays - Presidents birthdays, etc. I will fly the flag this whole weekend (Memorial Day weekend).

However, is it appropriate to fly it at half-staff all the long weekend and then put it full-staff at noon on Monday - or should I fly it at full staff all the rest of the weekend - and then half-staff only on Monday morning?

Post 10

We have a Peace Officer Memorial Park with a monument to honors those that made the ultimate sacrifice. We fly the American flag over the monument all year round, changing it with a new flag during Peace Officer Memorial week. My question is, since it's a memorial, do we keep the flag at half-mast year round or just the day of the ceremony?

Post 9

We work at a facility where the US Flag and several other foreign country's flags are flown together on about five flag poles. Since the US flag is not at half staff, our facility has also lowered all the Foreign Flags at half mask also.

I know that no other state flag or flags within the US are supposed to be higher than the US flag, but feel that it is wrong to arbitrarily lower a foreign country's flags without their countries permission. Who is correct, the facility who lowered all the flags or should only the US flag be at half staff?

Post 8

how long should a flag be at half mast for the current death of a federal judge?

Post 7

It is better if you change the term half-mast to half-staff. The latter is consistent with the term used in your US Flag Code.

Post 6

Is it acceptable to fly a second flag from another country on the same pole with the american flag?

Example, us flag at top of pole, flag of bermuda below it?

Post 5

Is it appropriate for a state flag to be half mast when the national flag is not?

Post 4

Why is the US flag flown at half mast only half a day?

Post 3

There are three (3) holidays that the flags are flown at half staff from *sunrise to sunset*. They are:

Peace Officer Memorial Day, 15 May.

Patriot Day, 11 September.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 7 December.

Memorial Day the flag is flown at half staff only until noon local time, then it is raised to full staff.


Insp Gadget59

Post 2

Since no one actually died, I'm going to have to say no. When is it permitted to half-staff the U.S. flag?

Only the president of the United States or the governor of the state may order the flag to be at half-staff to honor the death of a national or state figure. Unfortunately, many city, business and organization leaders are half-staffing the flag upon the death of an employee or member. Instead, it is suggested to half-staff (if on a separate pole) the city, business or organizational flag. The federal flag code does not prohibit this type of half-staffing.

Post 1

Does flag etiquette allow a U.S. citizen to choose to fly his U.S. flag at half-mast at a time when he feels it is appropriate? For example, we want to fly our flag at half-mast today because we are very disappointed in the election of Barack Obama as our new president. Is it appropriate for us to fly our flag at half-mast?

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