South Carolina sheriff refuses to lower flag in honor of Nelson Mandela

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An artist paints a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside the hospital where he has been since June 8.

(CNN) — A South Carolina sheriff is refusing to lower the American flag in tribute to Nelson Mandela, saying the honor should be reserved for American citizens.

President Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff for the international icon until sunset Monday.

But Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark says not in his department.

“It’s just my simple opinion that the flag should only be lowered to half-staff for Americans who sacrificed for their country,” Clark told CNN affiliate WHNS.

It should be lowered at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, he said, but not at home.

The flag in his department was lowered over the weekend to honor a fallen law enforcement officer and for Pearl Harbor Day. But it will go right up Sunday morning, he said.

“I have no problem lowering it in South Africa in their country but not for our country. It should be the people who have sacrificed for our country.”

Mandela became the symbol of the fight against racial discrimination in South Africa, and served 27 years behind bars for defying the apartheid government. He died Thursday at age 95.

Though rare, the lowering of flags for foreign citizens is nothing new.

George W. Bush did it for Pope John Paul II eight years ago. So did Bill Clinton, when former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in the 1990s.

In fact, the practice goes as far back as 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson ordered flags lowered for former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

But not all world leaders get the honor.

This year, Obama issued a statement expressing his condolences for the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But he did not order the flag lowered.

American presidents can issue the executive order at their discretion, the Flag Code states. In general, presidents reserve the honor for major national figures, including governors and foreign dignitaries.

The code says it’s only a guide and it does not offer penalties for noncompliance.


  • RadiocaciquedHaiti Live

    Why do we have laws and orders in the United States then if a sherrif does not want to obey an order given by the president of the Country. How about if citizens start disobeying the sheriff’s orders….This is not Somalia, this is the USA. Obey the orders!!!

  • Mike

    I would like to know if this sheriff was in office when Pope John Paul died eight years ago. If he was, did he fly the flag at full mast or half.

  • Ian Danielsen

    US flags were flown half-staff to honor the memories of Pope John Paul II and also victims of the Indian Ocean earthquakes and tsunami. Did you raise this ruckus for those solemn occasions Sheriff, or is President Mandela’s passing somehow…different? No, couldn’t be!

  • scars

    How does this Sheriff reconcile the fact that Jesus was not an American? Guess we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas either since only Americans deserve to be honored. Fortunately, sad racists men like this are a dying breed. What would poor white trash do if they didn’t have minorities to blame all their failures on?

  • Glenn Doane

    The following was copied from an article that’s easily found via a google search-

    “Every sheriff is a county officer, elected by the voters of that county. The Supreme Court held in Printz v. U.S. in 1997 that the Tenth Amendment forbids the federal government from ever ordering any state or local official to carry out a federal program. Ironically, that case also involved a sheriff—Jay Printz of Montana—and a federal gun control law.”

  • airjackie

    The Sheriff is following the views of the State and he along with other elected officials agree Mandela should not be honored for bringing down Apartheid which is Segregation. Over the years even President Reagan/ George HW Bush and did Cheney called Mandela a Terrorist for fighting for Equality. This is the view of the US for any minority who dare feel they should have equal rights. Even Dr. King was labeled a Terrorist for his civil rights movement. People see the out cry to impeach President Obama for daring to represent all Americans as even President Kennedy was called a terrorist to the US for his push of his Civil Rights Bill. South Africa showed the World as Mandela and President FW De Klerk joined to end Apartheid while even President George HW Bush was not in agreement even in 1990. Many still feel as they did in the 50’s that whites are superior to minorities as even some use the Bible to justified the insanity. But with the Koch Bros running the State officials and not honoring this World leaders it makes the view of South Carolina clear. Even the Governor is silent on this World event. The US as a hold does show respect and manners to this great man Nelson Mandela. Obama, Clinton, Bush and Carter will attend the funeral as will other World leaders. I do fine it interesting how many honor this Peal Harbor day of Dec. 7, 1941 and the brave soldiers who died. Among those being honored are blacks who served under the US Military segregation/discrimination and those Japanese Americans who were in prison camps set up by the US but asked to serve the US at War. Those brave men who lived to make it back home after the War learned they had fought for their country that still discriminated against them. We had to learn but it seems South Carolina has forgotten.

  • Allen

    I just saw a picture of a guy burned at the stake because he did not agree with Mandela. Not the right way to go about things. No flag at half staff. This should be reserved for Americans.

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