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N.J. governor under fire over decision to lower flags for Whitney Houston

From Chris Boyette, CNN
updated 11:26 AM EST, Fri February 17, 2012

(CNN) -- Facing angry critics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is defending his decision to fly flags at half-staff on Friday to honor late New Jersey native Whitney Houston.

The executive order, released by his office Thursday, cites the singer's ties to the Garden State, her remarkable voice and far-reaching influence in support of the move.

"Whitney Houston's vibrant and spectacular voice endeared her to countless fans in New Jersey, across the nation, and around the world," the executive order read. "(She) left a legacy in this State that will be cherished for many years."

The governor's decision to lower flags for Houston drew immediate ire from some social media users.

New Jersey to honor Whitney Houston

"I heard you also had the flags lowered to half mast for Whitney! Really? I fail to see the reasoning behind that," tweeted user @MrsTovmassian.

"Shame on you for ordering our flag to be flown half-mass for a singer who od'd! What about our soldier and real Heros?" tweeted user @Jaxio.

The governor, who is an active on the micro-blogging site Twitter, fired back.

"Every NJ soldier who has been killed in action during my Adm had the flags lowered in their memory. Learn your facts before accusing," he wrote.

Though no official cause of Houston's death has been released, many on Twitter contested Christie's decision because of the singer's reported battles with drug addiction over the years.

One user named @steakprincess posted: "She's not a fallen hero. I am not alone in taking offense to this. she's no role model. she's a dead junkie."

Christie was quick to respond, tweeting: "Flag being lowered for her cultural contributions as an artist & New Jerseyan. Her struggles w/substance abuse r a diff topic."

U.S. Flag Code, the federal law governing the use of the American flag, carries no punitive consequences and effectively serves as a guide to flag etiquette, according to the Steve Van Buskirk, director of programs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The code states the flag may be lowered to half-staff only under certain circumstances.

"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, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff," it states. A later amendment to the code included "the death of a member of the Armed Forces from that jurisdiction."

According to Van Buskirk, the VFW "finds no accommodation for flying the U.S. flag at half-staff for anyone outside these specific parameters."

While those parameters would not include police officers, firefighters, and other first responders, Bob Pinto, state adjutant for the VFW department of New Jersey, says the practice is not condemned.

During his tenure as governor, Christie has ordered flags flown at half-staff on several occasions. In addition to honoring all New Jersey police officers and soldiers killed in the line of duty, he made the order for another musician known for his artistic contributions to the state, calling for flags to be lowered to honor the E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died last June.

Calling Houston a "daughter of New Jersey," Christie addressed his critics at an event in West New York, New Jersey on Wednesday.

"I still conclude that they are many contributions you can make to our state that merit this honor upon your death. Some of them are political, some of them are military. Some of them are other advocates of public service like police officers, firefighters and others -- and some of them are cultural. And I think all of those contributions when done at their best are significant contributions," he said.

Houston's funeral is scheduled for Saturday at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she sang as a child.

CNN's Breeanna Hare contributed to this report.

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