A bill to take down the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina may be ready in time for the state legislature’s January 2016 session, if at least one Republican lawmaker has his way.
State Rep. Norman “Doug” Brannon (R-Spartanburg) has said he plans to introduce such a bill and file it as early as possible, likely in December, CBS News reported. The legislator adds his voice to the heated debate around the flag’s meaning and ties to white supremacy — a debate that has intensified following the deadly shooting at a historic black church in Charleston on Wednesday.
“When my friend was assassinated for being nothing more than a black man, I decided it was time for that thing to be off the Statehouse grounds,” Rep. Brannon said, referring to one of the nine victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who was also the lead pastor at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“[The flag] not just a symbol of hate, it’s actually a symbol of pride in one’s hatred,” Brannon added, according to the Associated Press.
The Battle Flag for the Army of Northern Virginia — often called the Confederate flag — has long divided the nation: some see it as a symbol of southern pride while others regard it as a reminder of slavery and racism, the Christian Science Monitor’s Sarah Caspari reported.
Among those who join Brannon in the latter view are former 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who called the flag “a symbol of racial hatred” on Twitter; and 2016 Republican candidate Jeb Bush, who called on South Carolina to follow Florida’s example in taking down the flag.
“My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear,” Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.”
Republicans in the running for the presidential primary contest in February have taken more careful positions.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, among those with a hat in the ring, told CNN the flag does not belong in the debate around the Charleston church shooting.
“We're not going to give this a guy [the shooter] an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere,” Sen. Graham said. “It’s him… not the flag.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Republican hopeful, told the New York Times that the issue is “a question for South Carolina. And the last thing they need is people from outside of the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve it.”
“I understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides,” Sen. Cruz added.
Besides its political complications, bringing down the flag also comes with legal and logistical issues, due to a South Carolina law that requires the approval of the full state legislature before the flag can be taken down.
Still, with Brannon supporting the flag’s removal, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle may be on the way to finding common ground on the matter.
“I can’t stand across the street from that church, knowing what went on in there and why, and act like symbols don’t matter,” Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia), told the Post and Courier Friday. “That young man had a flag on his chest of hatred. He had the flag on his car of hatred. He believed on it, acted on it. And if South Carolina government is serious about it, we have to take that flag down.”