Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, along with Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay, introduced a bill today in the House of Representatives banning the Confederate battle flag at cemeteries operated by the Department of Veteran Affairs.
“The confederate flag is a symbol of hate and intolerance, and it will forever be associated with the injustices of slavery and Jim Crow,” Gallego said in a press release. “It’s time for the Department of Veteran Affairs to change their policy allowing the Confederate Flag at cemeteries honoring American war heroes.”
At 131 cemeteries across the county, Confederate flags are permitted to be displayed on Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day — a holiday celebrated by many Southern states to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War—which Gallego and Clay's bill would prohibit.
This latest congressional effort comes amid a national debate about what the Confederate flag symbolizes and whether it is appropriate to fly. The Confederate flag debate flares up from time to time, and was reignited most recently after 21-year-old Dylann Roof — who revered it as a symbol of white supremacy — shot and killed nine innocent black men and woman at a Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina last month.
“The Confederate battle flag is a treasonous symbol of a war of insurrection instigated by white supremacists who made war on the United States to preserve the horrors of slavery and the cursed economic system that it fueled by subjugating and humiliating millions of African Americans for almost 300 years,” says bill co-sponsor Representative Clay. “It has no place in any national cemetery administered by the Veterans Administration.”
In much of the country, the Confederate flag is seen as a symbol of racism and a celebration of slavery. But to many people across the south, it’s viewed as a symbol of a shared cultural heritage. (Whether that shared cultural heritage includes racist underpinnings is up for debate.)
Tensions over the flag exploded here in Phoenix last weekend as activists from both sides of the debate yelled and screamed outside a Walmart, and in Tucson, elected officials are trying to decide whether the Confederate flag should be permitted during the city’s annual Rodeo Parade. (Traditionally, a flag is flown for all five governments that have occupied Tucson at one point or another — a small Confederate force arrived in Tucson in February 1862, and the flag flew for 80 days.)
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Also, earlier today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from her state’s capital grounds, a move that’s been debated in the national spotlight for weeks.
While Gallego believes the flag is a dark symbol of inequality and hatred, as a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he’s particularly adamant that “the Confederate flag does not represent the values our veterans fought to defend.”
He adds that “it is a painful reminder of a terrible time in our history when we treated human beings as less than. Our country needs to heal, and VA cemeteries should be a place of reflection, remembrance and tribute to those that embody the very best in our country.”