Attorney General Alan Wilson has a busy month ahead of him, but let's hope he can find time to prepare an opinion on the state Heritage Act, as it applies to a Confederate flag in The Citadel's Summerall Chapel. It could save Charleston County Council a lot of unnecessary trouble.
And it could provide guidance to other communities as they deal with attempts to impose judgment on historical street names, artifacts and statues elsewhere in the state.
In this instance, County Councilman Henry Darby wanted council to withhold nearly $1 million in accommodations tax money pledged for the college's football stadium unless The Citadel would agree to remove the flag - one of 57 that are displayed in the chapel. Mr. Darby described the flag as a "blatant" element in The Citadel's effort "to preserve the Confederacy."
Instead County Council voted 8-1 on Tuesday to provide the funding - if the AG's opinion says the flag is protected by state law.
Lt. Gen. W. Michael Steele, chairman of the The Citadel's Board of Visitors, says it is. In a letter to the editor on this page Tuesday, he said the college had been advised by counsel that the flag had to stay under the Heritage Act. But Sens. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, and Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, want to make sure, and have asked for the AG's opinion.
In any event, linking the potential loss of funding to the presence of a historic flag in the chapel isn't the stuff from which good public policy is made. It is hardly credible that council would actually renege on that funding, committed years ago.
The flag in question - the Confederate Naval jack - has been on display in the chapel since 1939, according to Citadel officials. It seems more than a bit presumptuous to assume that The Citadel should be expected to remove it, all of a sudden.
Councilman Elliott Summey's motion presumably would avoid a conflict, considering that the Heritage Act was designed to protect historic memorials and designations from revisionist changes.
There is no question that the flag is there legally - an issue cited in Prentiss Findlay's Wednesday report. And almost assuredly the Heritage Act would prevent its arbitrary removal - just as it would protect the name of nearby Hampton Park or the statue of Denmark Vesey recently dedicated there.
The act recognizes that while opinions differ on what are and aren't proud elements of the state's heritage, they deserve equal protection.
Citadel cadets fought under the Confederate flag - indeed, they fired on the Star of the West, then three months later probably fired the first shots on Fort Sumter. That is a matter of historical record and institutional pride for The Citadel.
But what happens if the attorney general says the Summerall Chapel flag isn't protected under the Heritage Act? Is council going to revoke the funding it promised to The Citadel if the military college doesn't remove the flag?
Let's hope it doesn't come to that; let's hope the attorney general's opinion will quickly settle the issue, and establish a favorable precedent.
County Council last year recognized the importance of African American heritage when it approved $12.5 million for the city of Charleston's African American museum. It's a great idea to provide overdue recognition to the rich black legacy of our community, state and nation.
It's a bad idea, however, for elected officials to threaten funding to another public institution - The Citadel - in such an arbitrary manner.
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