Story at a glance
- The state’s Republican-majority House of Delegates passed the West Virginia Monument and Memorial Protection Act of 2021 with a 70-28 vote last month.
- The bill would prohibit public entities such as city councils and county commissions from removing, relocating or altering statues and monuments on public grounds.
- Supporters of the bill say they are aiming to preserve history while opponents argue it’s an effort to protect Confederate monuments.
Lawmakers in West Virginia are considering legislation to block the removal of statues and monuments on public property, including those tied to the confederacy.
Last month, the state’s Republican-majority House of Delegates passed the West Virginia Monument and Memorial Protection Act of 2021 with a 70-28 vote.
The bill would prohibit public entities such as city councils and county commissions from removing, relocating or altering statues and monuments on public grounds that honor U.S. military conflicts, ranging from the French and Indian war to the second Gulf war.
It also prohibits the removal of monuments honoring the labor movement, civil rights movement, Native American history or natural disasters. The measure would criminalize the removal of such monuments unless doing so is first approved by the state’s historic preservation office.
West Virginia House Delegate Chris Phillips (R), the bill’s lead sponsor, has said he chose to sponsor the bill after watching the push to remove statutes last summer.
“This isn’t a Confederate protection act that some people try to make it (out to be). I’m truly interested in preserving history,” Phillips told The Guardian. “I do truly feel there’s a risk of losing historical perspective.”
Opponents of the bill, however, say they believe there are other motivations for the legislation, such as protecting the controversial statue of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson that stands outside West Virginia’s Capitol.
“I don’t see any other reason for it,” David Fryson, a lawyer and minister who served as West Virginia University’s vice-president for diversity, equity and inclusion, told The Guardian.
“It’s not like we have Nazi monuments in West Virginia. It’s not like we have any other kind of historical challenge. This is all about the Confederate monuments,” he said.
The legislation has been referred to the state’s senate judiciary committee.
The movement to remove Confederate symbols from public spaces gained traction last year following the police killing of George Floyd in May.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has campaigned for the removal of Confederate statues and monuments for years, more than 160 Confederate symbols were removed from public spaces or renamed in 2020, more than the previous four years combined.
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