Bill would ban Confederate battle flag on state property

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Local lawmakers air support for using flag at historic site, but state funding questioned

Controversy over display of the Confederate battle flag following the June 17 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., has prompted a call to greater distance state governments from the historic symbol of the Southern states.

Local lawmakers offered mixed views on a proposal for action in Missouri.

State Rep. Joshua Peters, D-St. Louis, has called for banning display of the Confederate flag at all state- and government-funded buildings and grounds. Specifically, Peters pointed to the Confederate Memorial Historic Site in Higginsville, which is maintained by the state.

Peters announced he plans to file legislation to enforce the ban. Historically, former Gov. Bob Holden had the flag removed in 2003, and in 2005, former Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the flag flown on Confederate Memorial Day.

Local lawmakers divided the debate over a matter of history and use of state funds.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said he thinks the flag could fly at any site where there is historical significance related to the Civil War.

"That war is part of our nation's history and the state's history," he said. "If it's a historic site focused on the Civil War, I don't think it's inappropriate to have the Confederate flag flying there. There are appropriate places that should be available for people to go and see what happened.

"I don't see any need to be flying that flag over a state capitol."

Fitzpatrick noted he had not yet seen the proposed legislation and could not give a final assessment of how he would vote.

"If in fact the site he's concerned about focuses on the history of the Civil War, it's probably a little overblown for the site to remove the flag from a place of historic significance," he said.

State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said he was not aware the Confederate battle flag was being flown on any state property.

"This issue is getting a lot of attention right now," Moon said. "Hopefully, we can change the environment so things like this won't have to be discussed every few months. I believe all this is coming from the person who went into the church in South Carolina and said he held that flag in high esteem.

"I wonder what would have happened if it was the American flag. Would we be stripping the flag off every building? I don't think so. I saw someone talking about exhuming the bodies and taking down the grave markers of Confederate soldiers. Where is this going to stop? I think [the flag proposal] is a knee jerk reaction, and I don't think it's something I'd support."

State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, recalled that his hometown was the last seat of the capitol of the pro-Confederate administration in Missouri at the beginning of the Civil War.

"We could have a flag flying over the courthouse here," Sater said. "That would not be appropriate.

"I would not, of course, be in favor of flying the Confederate flag over any government building or state building. I have no problem with a flag over a historical marker. It's part of our history."

Sater also expressed doubts about continuing state support for the monument in Higginsville.

"Maybe they should seek donations from outside interests for the upkeep [of the memorial] rather than the state," Sater said. "I have no problem transferring it from state responsibility to private hands. I would say probably that's probably not a good use of our tax dollars."

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