The U.S. flag flies at half-staff on government buildings, military bases and public schools on specific occasions, outlined in Title 4 of the U.S. Code: the deaths of presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and governors.
The president also may authorize the flag to fly at half-staff, which he did for the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings and the Boston Marathon bombings.
Governors can also direct that the state flag be lowered to honor state officials, military members who died during service to the country, or prominent citizens.
Chris Kyle was a U.S. Navy SEAL who wrote the book “American Sniper” about his experiences. He and a friend were killed at a Texas gun range on Feb. 2; veteran Eddie Ray Routh has been charged in the case. Hundreds of people lined the route of the funeral procession on Interstate 35 from Midlothian to Austin, where Kyle was buried. The Department of Public Safety was quoted as saying that it might have been the longest funeral procession in U.S. history.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement that included the following: “I am honored to have known Chris and to have called him my friend. Anita and I send our deepest condolences to his wife, Taya, his children and the thousands of service members that were his extended family.”
Despite huge public support to do so, Perry did not order flags to be flown at half-staff.
Whitney Houston died in February 2012. The coroner ruled that she died from accidental drowning in a bathtub, “due to the effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.”
Obama never ordered flags lowered for Houston. Jay Carney, his press secretary, was quoted in various media: “I know that his thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially her daughter. It’s a tragedy to lose somebody so talented at such a young age.”
Snopes.com found no evidence that Obama made any public expression of condolence to mark Kyle’s death. There were reports in conservative online media that people were upset that Obama didn’t mention Kyle in his State of the Union address, which was given the same day as Kyle’s funeral.
It was Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, where Houston was born, who ordered all state flags to be flown at half-staff in her honor. There was quite an outcry, the media reported, with critics saying that it was wrong to honor a drug addict. Christie responded, “I am disturbed by people who believe that because of her history of substance abuse that somehow she’s forfeited the good things that she did in her life.”