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

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 3:54 PM EST, Sun December 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Spokesman says, "He's not breaking a law. It's his decision"
  • 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

(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 Barack 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.

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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 stay up Sunday, 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."

A spokesman for the department said the sheriff cannot be disciplined.

"He's not breaking a law. It's his decision. And I support the decision of the sheriff," Chief Deputy Creed Hashe said.

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. Bill Clinton did it 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.

CNN's Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

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