Open Thread: The Whitney Houston Flag Debate

Do a quick search for “@GovChristie” on twitter and you will find that many folks, including veterans and families of service members, are expressing displeasure at the governor’s decision to fly flags at half mast on the day of Whitney Houston’s funeral. Christie has defended the decision, noting that her cultural contribution warrants the honor. Gee, wouldn’t it be helpful if there were some sort of official rules related to this issue?

Turns out there is such a set of rules – United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1, also known as the Flag Code. And while “actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown,” section 7m specifically notes the circumstances under which the flag can be flown at half-mast.

None of the listed conditions seem to match the death of an entertainer. That is, of course, not to minimize in any way Houston’s contribution to popular culture or the many lives she touched with her music. That is simply to say, there are lots of entertainers from New Jersey; exactly how famous and/or influential does one have to be to receive this honor? The subjectivity involved with having to decide who does and doesn’t get flags flown at half mast seems like exactly the kind of reason we have a Flag Code in the first place. But that’s just me.

(Click here to the the U.S. Flag Code.)

Open thread – what do you think?  

Comments (5)

  1. Rosi Efthim

    Flags were ordered at half-staff for Clarence Clemons too when he died this summer. By the same governor. (And there were objections in that case, too, as you can read in the link’s comment section).

    But objections weren’t to this degree. 2 factors may be different for people now:

    1. Christie just hailed and rallied for the Super Bowl Giants. And pointedly, has not recognized our soldiers returning from Iraq with public celebration of any kind.

    2.  Whitney had a drug and alcohol problem, and though it’s only speculation, what we know of her last hours and death suggests she was using.

  2. Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro

    I would agree that that the circumstances do not meet the Code for flying a flag at half mast.   I think Whitney Houston was very talented, and her death at such a young age is very sad. I an concerned, however, that glorifying her death, which was related in some way to substance abuse sends a very bad message to our youth.  She is NOT a fallen hero; rather she was an ill woman who did not get or accept help.

  3. Couch Potato Politics

    I’m sorry but she was not a War Hero, Activist, Champion for Human Rights, Beacon of Social Change, in fact, she spent the last 10 years of her life being a tabloid punch-line with drug use, domestic violence and shameful acts of public intoxication and idiocy.

    Is it a sad thing that she died? Yes. Was she once a remarkable talent? Sure. Is she a national hero/figure worthy of state-wide recognition by flying flags at half-mast, a ceremony usually reserved for those who have done great national service? No.

    And those that make the comparative to Clarence Clemons, You can’t compare Clarence to Whitney.

    He gave 40 years to Music and was respectable and a BIG philanthropist.

    He and Bruce fed thousands of families with their food bank concerts, they gave millions to the poor and underserved in the state.

    Clarence was the example of a person who used his talent and fame to make the lives of others better.

    I still wasn’t big on the flags at half-mast for the Big Man either, just feel that if he is the litmus, she falls well short.

    This is Christie bolstering his image on her death and serving a public relations gift to another Christie-CRat (Booker).

  4. kneill

    I think we can all agree that her death was tragic but she was an addict. She was a testament to what happens to people who get doctors to over prescribe meds and, in turn, use them irresponsibly. There are so many other ways Christie could have politically capitalized on this horrible tragedy without demeaning the honor of flying flags at half mast.  I mean no disrespect to Whitney or her family but this gesture strikes me as very disingenuous.  

  5. jeffpickens

    …is his fervent, unapologetic, unabashed, in-your-face Jersey pride (used to promote a wrong agenda, yes, but I still like the attitude). This move was done, I believe, in the spirit of that Jersey pride. If I were the governor I may have been tempted to do the same thing.

    My initial reaction was, what’s the big deal, but when I think about it, I’ve changed my mind. While I appreciate the governor’s desire to recognize a New Jersey native who distinguished herself in the arts, flying the flag at half-staff is not appropriate. We have the New Jersey Hall of Fame for people like Whitney Houston and Clarence Clemons.

    I am not a lawyer and do not know if the Flag Code is the law or a set of guidelines, so I cannot say if he has the legal authority to half-staff the flag for anyone he chooses, and if he violated the law or simply broke with tradition with the Clarence Clemons and Whitney Houston orders.

    If you are going to break the government and fallen soldiers precedent, what should be the criteria? The current governor’s personal tastes? Perhaps it’s better to follow the rules.


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