Haywood commissioners consider banning Confederate flag

By Catherine Hunter –

“At no point shall the confederate battle flag be displayed on Haywood County grounds,” states the newly proposed Display Policy for Haywood County. The Confederate battle flag is the only flag, sign, placard or other emblem singled out by this policy.

“This is flat unconstitutional,” said Kirk Lyons, Chief Trial Council for the Southern Legal Resource Center. “It’s a violation of the First Amendment freedom of speech.”

Haywood County Commissioners heard a first reading of the proposed policy during the November 19 commission meeting. The policy is a reaction to protests arising when the Confederate flag was removed from a memorial on the county courthouse grounds.

The policy specifically allows the display of 12×16 inch Confederate First National Flag on Confederate Memorial Day. At no other time is any confederate flag allowed to be displayed on the memorial without specific permission of the County Manager.

Lyons said it was wrong for the county to single out the Confederate flag because they have allowed the display of flags from other wars to be flown on the courthouse grounds.

“This has created a public forum,” said Lyons. “The state, county or the feds [federal government] can’t pick and choose what flag we can fly on county grounds. Their job is to butt out.”

“I don’t know why the policy specified the Confederate battle flag,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley. “I have questions about it [the display policy] too.”

Ensley continued saying he did recall a group of African American citizens saying having the confederate battle flag displayed on the memorial was offensive. He added that the commissioners wanted to have some sort of policy regulating the placement of flags or other paraphernalia on the grounds.

“We could have people placing things there [courthouse grounds] all the time if we’re not careful,” said Ensley who called the policy well drafted and a good place to start, though it did need some “tweaking.”

Commissioner Michael Sorrells said they originally had an agreement with local southern history groups that allowed placement of the Confederate flag on the memorial for Confederate Memorial Day and after that day, it would be removed.

“This year the flag was put up and not taken down,” said Sorrells. “The agreement was the flag would not stay up past that day.”

Sorrells added that the county has a policy for such displays in their buildings, but not for their grounds and that this would be a policy for their grounds. He added that the commissioners saw the policy draft not long before the meeting and did not have much time to consider it.

Lyons said having the Confederate battle flag displayed on the memorial is allowed in the state statutes as part of an historical display, similar to the Ten Commandments display and a picture of a Confederate soldier inside the courthouse building. He said he is currently preparing a legal brief which he will share with the commissioners.

“A law suit is a last resort,” said Lyons who is encouraging citizens to contact the commissioners and let them know this is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

“If they pass this policy, I can promise them a lifetime of Confederate flagging outside their door,” he said.

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