There was never a question whether the Confederate Naval jack was actually allowed in The Citadel's Summerall Chapel, where it has hung for three quarters of a century with 56 other flags. It was hung there with other flags representing the armed conflicts in which the military college's graduates have fought, plus the flags of the 50 states.
The question answered by the South Carolina attorney general's opinion on Tuesday was whether the flag could be removed despite the protections granted by state Heritage Act. The opinion stated that the flag, like other historic memorials around the state, is protected under the law. So the flag has to stay.
Although officials at The Citadel already had been similarly advised by the college's attorney, they probably breathed a collective sigh of relief. They will get the $975,000 placed in jeopardy by Charleston County Council, and they won't be required to address the flag issue again and again.
Even so, the greatest relief had to felt by those County Council members whose resolve would have been tested by a different opinion.
The AG's opinion effectively took council off the hook for its threat to withhold accommodations tax money from the school if the flag were not removed. At Councilman Elliott Summey's recommendation, the denial of funding was conditioned on the attorney general's opinion.
Would council have taken the next step had the outcome been different?
Councilman Henry Darby was first to insist on the funding cut if The Citadel didn't remove the flag. Mr. Darby contends that the flag is a divisive symbol that represents The Citadel's ongoing effort to "preserve the Confederacy."
The real issue for council should have been whether it, as an elected body, was acting responsibly by arbitrarily threatening to withhold tax money already pledged to another public institution. And whether its decision should have been conditioned upon a wholly unrelated issue.
In both cases, the answer is "No." It's an ill-considered way to conduct county business.
Only Councilman Joe Qualey voted against the proposal, correctly insisting that council shouldn't renege on its promise to help pay to upgrade The Citadel's football stadium.
If council is tempted to further advance a historic revisionist agenda in the future, it now has the attorney general's opinion in hand to stop it before it starts.
As noted in the AG's opinion, protections are afforded a multitude of monuments, plaques and memorials. Those include war memorials and relics as well as monuments to African American and Native American heritage.
So to those who would have the heritage games begin again:
Read the attorney general's opinion and, please, cease and desist.