Governor Christie's decision to fly the United States flag at half staff on Saturday, February 18th, to honor the deceased entertainer Whitney Houston is drawing heated debate. According to the Governor, the flag will be lowered in memory of a “daughter of New Jersey,” just as it was for New Jersey resident Clarence Clemons, former member of Bruce Springsteen's band. Those in opposition believe the flag should not be lowered for an individual with a history of substance abuse. Regardless of the outcry against Christie's decision, however, the flag will be lowered on Saturday. After-all, in New Jersey, Whitney Houston's native state, Governor Christie is the boss. He will do what he wants to do.
Ordinarily, I support Governor Christie. In this case, I do not.
Christie rejects complaints that Houston “forfeited the good things that she did” because of her substance abuse and cautioned his critics by saying, “...there but for the grace of God go I.” In that respect, Governor Christie is correct. The good Miss Houston did is not diminished by her personal problems. Her drug abuse does not grant the public license to belittle her; at this time, she and her grieving family deserve respect and privacy – but she does not deserve to have the flag flown at half staff and neither did Clarence Clemons.
According to the United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1 – The Flag, as found at www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagcode.htm, the requirements for lowering the flag to half staff are clear:
“By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. 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. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff, and the same authority is provided to the Mayor of the District of Columbia with respect to present or former officials of the District of Columbia and members of the Armed Forces from the District of Columbia. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.”
Last time I checked, entertainers, whether “daughters of New Jersey” or “sons of New Jersey”, did not qualify as principal figures of the United States Government. Governor Christie's decision to fly the flag at half staff for Whitney Houston (and Clarence Clemons) illustrates our society's tendency to raise entertainers, regardless of their personal issues, to the level of worshiped heroes. Granted, Whitney Houston had a remarkable voice that enriched the musical world and drew attention to New Jersey, but no celebrity's contribution to society is on par with that of our military or government officials who represent the United States of America.