Living in the state where we’ve lowered the flag to commemorate the passing of such luminaries as Clarence Clemmons, Whitney Houston, and just recently James Gandolfini – you’d think it would be fitting to lower the flag in honor of Nelson Mandela.

Not that there's been a problem with that here nor to compare what the first three have to do with the former South African President.

This is just to make the point that if we find it proper to lower the flag for prominent members of the community whose cultural contributions have meant so much to New Jersey; then why not for someone as inspirational a leader as Mandela.

To my knowledge, no such controversy exists here as the Governor has ordered the flags lowered in Mandela’s honor around the state.

However, in one county in South Carolina, one county sheriff is resisting the President's call to do so.

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.
Clark told a local CNN outlet, "it's just my simple opinion that the flag should only be lowered to half-staff for Americans who sacrificed for their country."

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

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.

I’ve always felt that lowering the flag for celebrities cheapened the meaning of the flag lowering – and agreed with the sheriff’s position that it be lowered to honor our fallen military.

Here’s where his decision falls short.

While not an American citizen, Mandela’s story is one of hope of overcoming impossible odds of fighting the tyrannical system of apartheid – and even more, of being able to forgive one’s oppressors – especially after having spent 27 years of his life in brutal imprisonment.

Much can be learned from the life of a man who’s lost so much – and yet found the capacity to forgive – truly a divine act.

Perhaps the flag lowering would serve as a reminder that no matter how insurmountable the odds, hope lives and forgiveness is always within one’s grasp.