I’ve seen something recently with regards to American flag etiquette that bothers me, although I have to admit I kind of feel bad for feeling bothered about it. I have noticed that this week all the Carl’s Jr. fast food locations in my area have been flying their flags at half-staff. I do understand the reason for it as the chain’s founder, Carl Karcher, just passed away. This is something they have decided to do on their own, though, and all other flags in the area are at normal height.
I certainly do understand and empathize the company’s strong desire to pay tribute to their founder. I can imagine that the gesture probably means quite a bit to his family, friends, and long-time employees. The problem is, though, that flag etiquette calls for the lowering to half-staff only under very specific circumstances to honor individuals that had a pretty broad scale impact. As I understand it, the flag should only be placed at half-staff when the president or a state’s governor issues an order calling for it. In those cases, the order is meant to be applied either country-wide (for a presidential order) or statewide (for a gubernatorial order) and not only at specific businesses or locations.
I believe that a lot of the emotional impact of flying flags at half-staff comes from the sense of shared mourning generated from the generally universal participation. When everyone in the country, or at least a community or state, has lowered their flag, that is a very visible and powerful message. That power is diluted when businesses or individuals choose to use that same method to mourn their more personal losses. I certainly don’t mean to diminish Karcher’s death, or anyone else’s, but I do feel that the lowering of the flag to half-staff should remain a rare celebration of lives, or occasionally tragic events like 9/11, that truly had a broad, wide-ranging impact on the entire country or state.
I do feel that flag etiquette should be a set generally accepted rules and shouldn’t carry the force of law. I don’t believe that Carl’s Jr. is or should be subject to any kind of legal consequences for their decision. I absolutely believe that Carl’s Jr. is right to pay tribute to their founder, but I don’t really feel that they picked the right way to do it.