The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education notified public school districts across the state Monday afternoon to fly flags at half-staff in honor of the passing of Pope John Paul II.
The notice was issued on the heels of a Saturday statement from Gov. Matt Blunt that followed a presidential proclamation asking flags at all public buildings — including public schools — be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of the pope’s burial, which is Friday.
Flags in Missouri will remain at half-staff until Monday.
Blunt said in his statement, “It was faith that made Pope John Paul II extraordinary, and it is that same faith that will now strengthen Catholic families and other Missourians who mourn this great loss.”
Blunt described the pope as a tireless advocate for human freedom.
“He also was a constant voice reminding us all of the sanctity of human life and inherent human dignity,” Blunt said.
Public school officials in Missouri were not given a choice whether to fly their flags at half-staff. This is not breaking any separation between church and state, said Jim Morris, spokesman for the state schools agency.
“The pope is considered to be a head of state in addition to being a religious leader,” Morris said.
Since the pope is the head of state of Vatican City, it would be appropriate to lower flags to half-staff in honor of him, Morris said.
Two Mile Prairie Elementary School Principal Larry Jones agreed with Morris and the decision to fly flags half-staff at public schools. “I think it just has to do with an important person and what he did to support people,” Jones said. “And I don’t see it as a religious decision.”
Prior to the death of the pope, flags were flown at half-staff at all Missouri schools after the December tsunami in Southeast Asia.