Policies, proposed policies and Confederate flags

By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 14, 2012
The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag is the one Confederate veterans have determined is the best representation of their cause according to a letter submitted by Kirk Lyons, the lawyer arguing for a policy change in Haywood County.

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners is considering a permanent policy on the posting and placement of flags, monuments, memorials, signs, placards and other displays on county property.

The deliberations have sparked a storm of public comment, much of which is being driven by organizations outside the county boundaries. The issue was originally slated to be discussed at the 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17, board meeting, but now has been postponed until January 2013.

There are a number of Confederate flags which were approved during the Civil War period, and the county draft policy stipulates the "Stars and Bars" flag is the one that is to be displayed. Confederate groups, including the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, the WNC Flaggers and the Southern Legal Resource Center want the Confederate Battle Flag displayed.

Black Mountain attorney Kirk Lyons contends stipulating which flag can be flown is "patently unconstitutional," as are other parts of the draft document being considered by the commissioners.

There is no permanent policy at present but an interim policy allows official government flags to be displayed. This includes the Mississippi state flag, which incorporates a portion of the Confederate Battle flag.

The draft permanent policy allows for the display of flags, signs and other displays, but 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. The proposed policy limits the display of Confederate flags in front of the Confederate Memorial to the First National Flag of the Confederacy, or the “Stars and Bars,” for one day out of the year, Confederate Memorial Day on May 11.

First amendment or public policy?

Commissioners say there is no problem with individuals or groups expressing their opinions on the public property, but say limiting displays is an action that has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with practicality. County Attorney Chip Killian has advised the board that whatever the policy they agree upon should be viewpoint neutral, make sure the integrity of the courthouse grounds is protected and make sure the First Amendment is adhered to at all costs.

A Raleigh-based group, the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, wants to display the Confederate Battle Flag on a more frequent basis. Kirk Lyons, who works with the Southern Legal Resource Center, and who said he is speaking on behalf of the state group, strenuously opposes the proposed policy and vows to do so "by all legal means necessary if the wording we have brought to your attention remains in the final adopted policy."