House Dems fail to ban Confederate flag at The Citadel

The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected a Democrat-led effort to withhold ROTC funding from The Citadel unless it removes a Confederate flag on display in its chapel.

According to The Hill, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) advanced a motion late Wednesday night in an attempt to add two amendments to the annual appropriation for defense spending, but the measure was defeated in a party line vote of 181-243, after which the full House approved the underlying authorization bill.

In addition to the flag ban, the Democrats were also hoping to force a vote on another amendment that would have removed a Republican-sponsored provision prohibiting the federal government from discriminating against religious groups, educational institutions, or contractors on the basis of religion. Republicans say the language is intended to protect religious liberties, but Democrats fear it will open the door to discrimination against LGBT individuals.

Had the strategy succeeded, the legislation would have been sent back to committee, where Democrats had hoped to insert a provision barring the Defense Department from providing federal funding for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at any school that displays a Confederate flag, a description that reportedly applies only to the Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel).

The flag in question, a Confederate Naval Jack, has hung in Summerall Chapel since 1939, but has been the target of increasing criticism in recent years, with state and local lawmakers also periodically threatening to compel its removal.

[RELATED: Confederate Naval Jack in university chapel protected, South Carolina AG says]

The Citadel, however, maintains that the display is protected by the state’s Heritage Act protecting monuments and memorials on public property, which was enacted in 2000 as part of a compromise to relocate another Confederate flag that had been flown atop the South Carolina State House.

At the federal level, Democrats say they plan to continue pushing for the flag’s removal through amendments to other appropriations bills, but The State reports that the flag amendment had already been rejected once before at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 28, suggesting it is unlikely to garner much support in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Moreover, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) pointed out at the time that even if Congress were to pass such a measure, the state legislature would still need to amend the Heritage Act before The Citadel would be allowed to relocate the flag.

“What I told the cadets is that if this is a concern, they need to contact their legislators,” she 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.”

“The Heritage Act continues to be the law of the state,” House Speaker Jay Lucas concurred. “And until it is changed, we plan on complying with the Heritage Act. That’s really all I will say about it.”

Even the White House chimed in against the proposed amendment in its policy statement on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017.

“The administration strongly supports the removal of the Confederate battle flag…from the Nation’s universities and other institutions,” the statement begins. “Cutting off Federal funding for a ROTC program on the ground that an institution displays the flag, however, raises First Amendment concerns. The Administration therefore urges Congress to pursue this important objective through other means.”

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