Following this weekend’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, President Obama ordered that, “as a mark of respect for the victims,” the United States flag be flown at half-staff “upon all public buildings and grounds” through the end of the day Thursday. Officials in Cole County, Missouri decided this didn’t apply to them.
The three-member commission that governs the county voted 2–1 against lowering the flag. “We (the commission) still have control over how the flags are displayed,” Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher (R) told the Jefferson City News Tribune. “Lowering it too much takes away from the honor. I feel for these victims and for their families, but I don’t feel this was a time for the flag to be lowered.”
Commissioner Kris Scheperle (R) similarly suggested that the Orlando shooting just doesn’t rise to the occasion. “I want to honor those who have served our country,” he said, “but we can’t lower it for every event like this that occurs. I do feel for those who were gunned down, but I don’t think it warrants lowering the flag.”
Neither commissioner elaborated any further as to why exactly they think the victims of the country’s deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11 did not deserve the honor.
Federal law dictates, “In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.”
President George W. Bush similarly ordered the flag be flown at half-staff for the five days following the attacks on September 11, 2001. In response to laws passed by Congress, Bush also issued proclamations in 2007 dictating that it be flown at half-mast every September 11 (“Patriot Day”) and every December 7 (“National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day”).
It’s unclear if Cole County’s commissioners similarly disagree about whether those occasions warrant lowering the flag to half-staff.
Today, June 14, is Flag Day.
Following widespread outrage, the commission reversed course Tuesday afternoon and lowered the flag to half-staff. They offered no further explanation for their decision.