House votes to ban Confederate flags at federal cemeteries

Confederate Flag, MoveOn, Charleston
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After just two minutes of floor debate late Tuesday evening, the House passed a measure to prohibit the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries.

Despite the lack of fanfare, the vote marked the House’s first entry into the debate over removing the Confederate flag from federal property that went beyond codifying already established policies.

Rep. Jared Huffman’s (D-Calif.) amendment to the 2016 Interior Department spending bill seeks to end a policy that allows a temporary display of the flag in cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It sailed through on a voice vote after minimal discussion on the House floor that encountered no opposition.

{mosads}The final vote on the Interior bill is expected on Thursday.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a directive in 2010 that allows national cemeteries that commemorate a designated Confederate Memorial Day to decorate the graves of Civil War veterans with small Confederate flags. The directive states that decorative flags must be removed “as soon as possible” once the Confederate Memorial Day is over.

“We can honor that history without celebrating the Confederate flag and all of the dreadful things that it symbolizes,” Huffman said.

The flag has faced heightened public scrutiny in the aftermath of the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine people. 

The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, reportedly told law enforcement he wanted to start a race war. Photographs of Roof posing with the Confederate flag in an apparent online manifesto have also since surfaced.

Earlier Tuesday, the House adopted another amendment authored by Huffman to codify a new National Park Service policy by prohibiting new contracts to sell items featuring the Confederate flag in gift stores. 

The National Park Service announced the policy days after the June 17 shooting to prevent the sale of stand-alone items with the Confederate flag in gift shops or bookstores. However, it would still allow stores operated by the National Park Service to sell educational items like books or films that include images of the Confederate symbol.

A third amendment to the Interior Department spending bill, offered by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), bans the National Park Service from buying or displaying Confederate flags unless they are used to provide historical context. As with the two other amendments, it passed on a voice vote.

The succession of votes in the House regarding the Confederate flag came just two weeks after lawmakers punted on whether to ban the image from the Capitol complex. Instead of immediately passing or rejecting Rep. Bennie Thompson’s (D-Miss.) resolution that would apply to the display of the Mississippi flag around the House side of the Capitol, the House instead referred it to the Administration Committee for review.

South Carolina lawmakers are debating this week whether to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds. The South Carolina Senate voted 36-3 to take it down, while the state House has not yet cast a final vote.

— This story was updated at 9:50 a.m.

Tags Confederate flag National Park Service
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