Politics & Government

York County lawmaker files bill to ban Confederate flag from any SC public building

In response to an ongoing controversy over a version of the Confederate flag being put back into the renovated York County Courthouse, York County lawmaker John King has filed a bill that would settle the issue - a ban on the Confederate flag being flown or shown in any public building in South Carolina except a museum.

King, D-Rock Hill, chairman of the Legislature’s Black Caucus, is the sole sponsor of the bill and has spoken out repeatedly against the flag as a divisive relic. King said he expected the 2015 General Assembly vote to remove the flag from the State House after a white supremacist killed nine blacks in Charleston in hopes of starting a race war would have ended attempts to put a Confederate flag up on any public grounds. King was one of many leaders who spoke out Jan. 29 against the Confederate flag going back into the courtroom when the courthouse in York re-opened, pushing him to file the bill.

“I believed that issue of the Confederate flag was behind us after the state took action in 2015 - but apparently it isn’t’,” King said. “This would handle it once and for all.”

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he is opposed to the bill and the calendar for contested issues is full, meaning the bill likely won’t be heard this year.

“I agree with keeping the Heritage Act the way it is and preserving our history,” said Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester. “I am not for this. No.”

Whether King has enough support for debate or a vote is unclear. S.C. House of Representatives speaker Jay Lucas, a Republican, has said repeatedly since the 2015 vote that no other votes on the Heritage Act will be brought up despite efforts to consider changing names of building named for racist Ben Tillman at Clemson and Winthrop universities. Efforts to reach Lucas on King’s bill were unsuccessful.

The flag controversy erupted again in late January in South Carolina when York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton decided not to put historical items, including a version of the Confederate flag, back into the renovated courthouse main courtroom, saying it is a new era. Several leaders lauded the decision.

But Hamilton changed his mind days later after he was advised that not putting the flag back could violate the Heritage Act that mandates only the Legislature has the power to vote on moving historical items.

On its Web site, the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans urges its members to contact legislators to defeat the bill. The group states it is a heritage group that supports the flag.

“This bill must be defeated!” the site states. “It will open the door for a flood of actions to remove monuments, and everything connected to our Confederate ancestors.”

Leland Summers, state commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, declined to comment.

Rock Hill’s NAACP and other community, political and religious leaders have spoken out against the flag going back in the courthouse. Montrio Belton, a Rock Hill lawyer who has talked of legal action if the flag goes back, applauded King’s bill.

“I understand the passions of both sides, and the other side’s concern for their history, but there is no place in any public building in 2017 for the Confederate flag,” Belton said.

Rock Hill's NAACP immediate past president Dr. Jacques Days agrees the Confederate flag is a relic and should not be in or on public buildings.

A statement by the local NAACP chapter sent by Days states: “So called Confederate flags, including the South Carolina infantry battle flag of the Confederate States of America, have long been a symbol of national division, of support for a state’s right to allow one group of citizens to enslave other human beings, and of the national scourge of racism and white supremacy. We agree with Rep. John King such symbols should remain in only two places: history and the study thereof. We support King’s efforts to consign this hateful symbol to its rightful place and to call it what it is. It is a museum relic and has no place of honor in the contemporary South and in contemporary America.”

York County’s Public Defender Harry Dest and his chief deputy also have publicly called for the flag to stay out of both the courtroom and courthouse.

York County’s other courtrooms and courthouses do not have Confederate flags. Former Gov. Nikki Haley, now United Nations ambassador, said in her last state speech the Confederate flag is a “divisive symbol of an oppressive past.”

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