VA to ban large-scale display of Confederate flag in cemeteries

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to ban the large-scale display of the Confederate flag in cemeteries overseen by the agency, following a House vote to do so earlier this year. 

In a letter to Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) this month, the VA said it will no longer allow the Confederate flag to fly on any flagpole in national cemeteries. However, groups will still be permitted to adorn individual graves with small Confederate flags on two days of the year: Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day. 

The VA said that after a yearlong review of its policies surrounding the flag’s display in its cemeteries, it would change them in accordance with an amendment authored by Huffman that the House adopted in May. 

{mosads}“We are aware of the concerns of those who wish to see Confederate flags removed from public venues because they are perceived by many as a symbol of racial intolerance. We are also aware that the national cemeteries originated during the Civil War and that they are the final resting places of those who served on both sides of that conflict and, as such, flags of the Confederacy are also viewed by some merely as historical symbols,” the VA’s interim undersecretary for memorial affairs, Ronald Walters, wrote in a letter to Huffman.

While Huffman’s amendment to a VA spending bill passed on a bipartisan vote, a majority of House Republicans voted against the measure. A total of 84 Republicans voted with all but one Democrat in favor of Huffman’s proposal, while 158 opposed it. The provision was ultimately left out of the final bicameral compromise VA appropriations legislation.

Its exclusion from the final bill led Huffman and other House Democrats to urge the VA to change the policy regarding Confederate flag displays on its own in the absence of policy enacted by Congress.

“While racist individuals and groups continue to embrace the Confederate battle flag, it has never been more clear that this anachronistic symbol of hatred, slavery, and insurrection should not be promoted or gratuitously displayed on federal property,” Huffman said in a statement on Tuesday. “That’s why I am so grateful that the Department of Veterans Affairs responded to our letter and to public concerns and decided to prohibit the large-scale display of Confederate flags on our national veterans cemeteries.”

Debate flared over displaying the Confederate flag in the immediate aftermath of the racially motivated shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last year. The National Park Service and multiple businesses subsequently announced they would stop selling items emblazoned with the Confederate flag as the nation reeled from the massacre.

A few weeks later, Huffman offered a similar amendment to an Interior Department spending bill that passed quietly by voice vote during late-night floor debate. But some GOP lawmakers, primarily from Southern states, learned about Huffman’s amendment the next day after it had already passed and demanded it be stripped from the legislation.

Rather than stage a politically damaging vote showing their members in support of the Confederate flag, House GOP leaders opted to cancel consideration of the entire underlying spending bill.

Huffman then offered his amendment on the first spending bill to come up for a vote in the House this year. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) allowed a vote on Huffman’s measure to go forward while the VA spending bill was being considered under a process allowing unlimited amendments.  

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