Legalism and Fourth of July

In a catch-22 that the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day might appreciate, the death of Senator Byrd has nearly created a flag code quandary: Obama declared flags fly at half-staff between now and Byrd’s funeral next week, but that would have required the flag to be at half-staff on the Fourth of July (which apparently is against flag code, although I haven’t found where).

In real life, this wasn’t a tough call. Byrd wasn’t a president, vice president, Supreme Court justice, or speaker of the House, so flag code didn’t require the flags to fly at half-mast. That was a decision of President Obama, who doesn’t have the authority to override flag code. Obama recognized this, ordering flags to fly at full-staff on Sunday (since they were supposed to, and going to, whether he “ordered” it or not).

But the article made reference to what turns out to be a weird quirk in flag code. § 7(m) requires that “the flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President,” but it also requires that “On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.”

Suppose a former president dies the day before Memorial Day. On Memorial Day afternoon, should the flag be flown at full-staff (to recognize Memorial Day) or half-staff (to recognize the dead president)? Either way you choose seems to violate § 7(m).

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