There is an entire section in the Federal U.S. Code dedicated to the flag of the United States of America. This section includes the exact dimensions of the flag, how to properly recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and how to respectfully display the flag under various conditions.

What about lowering the flag to half-staff? According to the U.S. Code — which is the law of the land — only the president of the United States, state governors and the mayor of the District of Columbia can order flags to be flown at half-staff. That’s done through a special proclamation or executive order. Although city mayors or other local officials may order flags lowered, this is a violation of the code, but there are no penalties for doing so.

The most important fact, for our purposes, is that those half-staff proclamations and executive orders only apply to flags flown at government buildings and military installations, not individual homes or private businesses.

“If it’s your own personal flag, you can do what you like with it,” says Maria Coffey, co-owner of Gettysburg Flag Worksa New York-based flag company with a comprehensive primer on half-staff dates and etiquette.

“Individuals are not acting illegally when using the flag according to their own rules,” the guide says. “[The Flag code] carries no civil or criminal penalties for ‘misuse’ of the Flag… [It] is only required to be followed on public or government buildings.”

In fact, when a president orders flags to be flown at half-staff (to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, for example), the order always includes the following language:

  • “I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions.”
  • “I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.”
  • When a governor issues a half-staff proclamation, it is similarly confined to “State-owned facilities,” which includes state government buildings, military installations and public schools.

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