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

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Highlights
  • President Obama orders flags lowered to half-staff for the international icon
  • Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark says not in his department
  • Clark says the honor should be reserved for American citizens

By Faith Karimi

A South Carolina sheriff refused 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 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 Churchhill.

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.

But Clark is well within his First Amendment rights.

The code says it's up to civilians to decide whether to lower the flag.

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