Confederate group refuses to surrender
The ongoing Confederate flag tug-of-war in Haywood County took an unusual turn last week.
Confederate supporters banned from flying the Confederate Battle Flag on the courthouse lawn have taken to flying the Mississippi state flag instead. The move by Confederate supporters aims to side-step a new county policy that would ban displays of the Confederate Battle Flag.
While the county is still working out the exact language, its proposed policy — as well as the interim policy now in effect —allows official government flags only.
But, defenders of the Confederate Battle Flag found a loophole in that language. It stipulates only official government flags are allowed on county property — and it just so happens there’s a government flag out there that contains the Confederate Battle Flag as part of its design.
Confederate supporters scoured state, county and even city flags around the nation that they could display legally while continuing to fight for the right to exhibit the Confederate Battle Flag itself.
And, sure enough, they found one — the Mississippi state flag. The flag has three stripes, one blue, one white and one red. Most importantly, however, the Confederate Battle Flag is depicted in the upper, left-hand corner.
Kirk Lyons, chief trial counsel with the Southern Legal Resource Center, was jolly and chuckled when he talked about finding the loophole while sitting outside the Haywood County historic courthouse last Friday with the state flag of Mississippi in hand.
“Please instruct the County Maintenance staff that the display of the Mississippi State flag comports in every way with the interim ‘Display Policy’ adopted by the Haywood County Board of Commissioners … and therefore should not be removed or molested in anyway,” Lyons wrote in a letter to county attorney Chip Killian.
Because the Mississippi state flag is a government flag, it will remain on county property.
“The county is not going to take any action at this time,” Killian said.
The language allowing the display of any “official government flag” was intentionally left vague. Limiting the policy to only the Haywood County, N.C. and U.S. flags would pose a conundrum every summer when the Folkmoot International folk and dance festival comes to town.
Large flags from other countries are draped from the historic courthouse during the two-week festival. Without the proper language in place, those flags could no longer be flown on county property.
However, an official county display policy is not yet set in stone.
“I think the whole thing is under review,” Killian said.
It appears the county would have to modify the language if it wants to close up the loophole.
At the earliest, the board of commissioners will vote on the policy at its Dec. 12 meeting.
While the proposed policy would ban displays of the Confederate Battle Flag at any time under any circumstance, the First National Flag of the Confederacy could be displayed from 7 p.m. May 9 to 7 a.m. May 11 to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, unless permission is otherwise requested.
Just because they found a loophole does not mean that Confederate flag proponents are willing to settle for the Mississippi state flag forever. Lyons called the policy unconstitutional and said he and others will continue to fight against it.
How we got here
Haywood County leaders may have won a battle, but it’s unclear who will win the war over what can and cannot be displayed — particularly when it comes to the Confederate Flag — on county property.
A philosophical fight broke out in August over miniature Confederate Battle Flags being stuck in the ground around the base of a Confederate Memorial on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Waynesville. Confederate supporters say the flags were meant to honor Southern heritage and Civil War veterans, but county leaders got complaints from some who see the flags as divisive and offensive symbols of past racism.
The scuffle turned into a full-blown standoff when the county board of commissioners temporarily prohibited the flags from being displayed until it could craft a policy detailing when, where and what can be placed on county property by outside groups.
Haywood County had no such policy on its books previously. The county attorney got to work crafting one, however, and presented a draft version to the board of commissioners last Monday.