The Confederate flag will continue to fly at The Citadel for the time being, after a U.S. House committee rejected an amendment to a defense budget Thursday.
The House Armed Services Committee rejected a measure, championed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, that would have forced The Citadel to choose between displaying the flag and federal money for its Reserve Officers' Training Corps program.
“I am greatly disappointed that a majority of Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee have voted to keep the Confederate battle flag flying in a place of worship at The Citadel,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Americans’ tax dollars should not be directed to institutions where it is flown.”
The amendment, proposed by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., would have barred the Defense Department from giving federal money to ROTC programs at any school that flies the Confederate flag.
The Citadel, a public military college in Charleston, is the only school that fits that description. It has displayed a Confederate flag in its Summerall Chapel since 1939.
“It is not appropriate to fly (the flag) over institutions that train our next generation of military officers, and it is bizarre to allow the flag to fly above an academy when the military services do not allow the same flag to be displayed in service members’ rooms,” Smith said. “They should have voted to take it down instead of dodging the issue.”
Last summer, the flag was removed from the S.C. State House in the aftermath of the racially motivated slaying of nine African-American parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify about the potential transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a Navy brig outside Charleston, said the state did not need Congress to interfere in the flag debate.
“They could very easily move the Confederate flag to the museum, which is right next door to where it’s being housed now,” Haley told reporters. “But they would have to do that through the same ways that we did it at the State House. As South Carolinians we handled that ourselves in South Carolina, so I don't think we need to go through a D.C. plan to do that. I think that's a matter of South Carolinians making that decision."
Haley said the process should go through the state Legislature, which would have to make an exception for the college to a state law called the Heritage Act.
“What I told the cadets is that if this is a concern, they need to contact their legislators,” the Republican governor said. “They would need to open the Heritage Act just for that specific facility and handle it accordingly. But right now we haven't seen any action.”
Last summer, the Citadel Board of Visitors voted 9-3 to remove the flag.
However, leaders of the GOP-controlled S.C. Legislature said Thursday they had no desire to open up the Heritage Act.
“The Heritage Act continues to be the law of the state,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, told The Greenville News. “And until it is changed, we plan on complying with the Heritage Act. That’s really all I will say about it.”
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said legislative leaders, including Lucas, has said they are not interested in amending the Heritage Act. “There’s a thousand battles that could be fought with every community park or square, or cornerstone or building or monument,” he said. “We would fight those battles ad infinitum. No, I don’t think it should be amended.”
However, Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said the Heritage Act needs to be revisited “if it precludes The Citadel from removing the Confederate flag,” he said, “if it precludes the town of Greenwood from changing its monuments, if it precludes Columbia from changing streets named after Confederates.”
In his response to the failure of Smith’s amendment Thursday, Clyburn said he wasn’t going to stop fighting to remove the flag. “In the coming weeks and months, I plan to give House Republicans additional opportunities to do the right thing,” he said.
The Greenville News, Andrea Cwieka contributed