The Confederate flag is about to fade from the nation's veterans cemeteries
The Confederate flag is being blocked from positions of prominence at veterans cemeteries nationwide, but it won’t be banned entirely.
In a letter to lawmakers made public this week, interim Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Ronald Walters said officials will no longer allow the controversial flag to be flown on flagpoles at the federally funded cemeteries or allow other flag imagery to be prominently displayed there.
However, the department will not stop individuals from using smaller versions of the flag or items bearing its image on individual graves, as long as there is no cost to the government. Flags placed on gravesites will not be banned by local staff unless they conflict with other local rules on permitted displays.
Previous policy had allowed the Confederate Flag to be flown on Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day (which is celebrated on different dates depending on the state), or specially designated events by local administrators. It was also permitted for year-long use at cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried in mass graves.
The move comes after months of debate over use of the flag at VA cemeteries. In his letter, Walters called the new policy a compromise between respecting veterans’ past and the flag's perceived racist overtones.
“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,” he wrote. “We are also aware that the national cemeteries originated during the Civil War … as such, flags of the Confederacy are also viewed by some merely as historical symbols.”
Democratic House members earlier this year attempted to ban the flag from cemeteries in a series of legislative moves, but were unsuccessful. In a statement this week, several of those advocates praised the new policy.
“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,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.
Iraq war veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-N.M., said the flag “does not represent the values our veterans fought to defend, and we shouldn’t permit it to be displayed at all in places where we pay tribute to their sacrifices.”
The policy is expected to go into effect later this year.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.