Flag loophole

Confederate flag controversy takes another turn
By Caroline Klapper | Nov 30, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Stuart Lyons stands in front of the Confederate Memorial, which now displays two Mississippi state flags.

On Friday morning, the Confederate Monument in front of the Historic Courthouse in Waynesville once again displayed the Confederate flag — or a version of it — despite an interim county policy banning all such displays on Haywood County property.

The battle over the display of Confederate flags at the monument began this summer when complaints reached the county commissioners asking them to remove the small Confederate flags that were placed there. The county established an interim policy on Aug. 20 banning all unofficial displays from county property until a public display policy could be established.

However, supporters of the Confederate flag display have found a loophole in the interim policy that allows for the display of “official government flags,” including state flags, based on N.C. General Statute 144-7(c) (4).

It happens that the Mississippi state flag contains a depiction of the Confederate flag in the upper left corner, and Friday, Kirk D. Lyons, of the Southern Legal Resource Center, and other supporters of the cause placed two small Mississippi state flags in front of the Confederate Monument.

“This is an official government flag, and it is in conformity with their interim policy. They are exempt from the current ban,” Lyons said while standing in front of the Historic Courthouse with other protestors.

One of those protestors was Maggie Willis, a member of the WNC Flaggers group.

She said the protest Friday in front of the monument wasn’t just about the flag controversy. She said she is concerned about First Amendment rights and what banning the flag from display on county property could mean for everyone.

“It’s about everybody being able to be free and to be able to express their freedom of speech,” she said while holding a small Confederate flag. “If you take away that, what’s next?”

As for those who claim the Confederate flag represents racism and hatred, she said she doesn’t see it that way.

“Unfortunately, history has been taught incorrectly. Obviously groups have used it in a derogatory fashion, but that doesn’t mean that’s what it’s about,” she said, explaining that she sees the flag as a representation of “individuality and a desire to be free and not be restricted by a tyrannical government.”

To make sure the flags would be left at the monument, Lyons also drafted a letter, which he presented to county officials, asking that the flags not be disturbed through the weekend.

“We’ve fired a shot across their bow, and we’ll see,” he said.

The move comes after a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting in which county attorney Chip Killian presented a proposal for a public display policy. The policy, which has not yet been adopted, allows for flags, signs and other types of displays on county property with certain provisions. Permission must be requested from the county 30 days prior to the planned placement date. The county manager has the authority to grant or deny permission to post any displays, and if the policy does not specifically address the requested use, authority lies with the Haywood County Board of County Commissioners to grant or deny requests.

But both the interim and proposed policies state that “official governmental flags” are not subject to the policy and are allowed.

And for now, it seems that the flags can stay.

“The letter we got this morning appears to be in compliance with the policy the commissioners adopted back in August,” said David Teague, Haywood County public information officer. “The flags will remain through the weekend.”

Meanwhile, Lyons said he still plans to fight the adoption of the proposed policy.

“We still think the policy is unconstitutional and illegal, … but if it happens, we can still display the battle flag on the monument until the cows come home,” Lyons said, adding he thinks the proposed policy is “stupid, unnecessary and bigoted.”

Lyons said the flags should be allowed to remain, and if anyone takes them down, he considers that to be theft and monument desecration.