The facts are pretty straightforward. On Thursday, the president issued an executive order that all flags on public buildings and grounds, military posts, naval stations, and naval vessels be lowered to half-staff through sunset Monday to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela. On Friday, Pickens County, S.C., Sheriff Rick Clark said no.
He told the Greenville News that the flag that flies over the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office would remain raised throughout the weekend.
When asked to explained, Clark said, “The flag at half-staff is for Americans’ ultimate sacrifice for our country. We should never stray away from that.” That perspective, regardless of what you might think of it, is not entirely consistent with the U.S. Flag Code, according to which the President may, by proclamation, order the flags flown at half-staff “after the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries.”
By the same token, the federal code “does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance nor does it include enforcement provisions.” Rather, it “functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups,” according to a U.S. congressional report commissioned by the U.S. Senate.
So, you’d think the story ends there. It doesn’t. The Los Angeles Times picked up on it, and all hell, as they say, broke loose. Even though Pickens clarified that his position had nothing to do with Mandela, whom he said “I’ve always liked and been very proud of,” the Times informs us that “many are saying it plays right into stereotypes about the racist South.”
Clark’s Facebook page was inundated with “spirited” comments, pro and con. Some of the commenters were less than gracious in their suggestions to Clark in re parts of his anatomy. Others, having learned for the first through the Times story that Obama had lowered the flags for Mandela, were outraged that he would so honor “a communist but not heroic Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (aka “The Devil of Ramadi”), who was shot to death in February.
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