The Confederate Naval Jack flag in Summerall Chapel at The Citadel is allowed under state law, the Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.
"In our opinion, this flag would be protected in its present location by the Heritage Act as a 'monument' or 'memorial' erected on public property of the state," Solicitor General Robert D. Cook said in a letter to the two senators requesting the opinion.
"The General Assembly has mandated, by virtue of the Heritage Act, that monuments and memorials honoring the gallantry and sacrifice of this state's various wars are protected," Cook says.
"It is thus our opinion that the flag referenced in your letter, the Confederate Battle Flag, placed in Summerall Hall in 1939 is protected by the Heritage Act," Cook wrote.
Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby raised questions about the appropriateness of the flag in a house of worship on The Citadel campus.
Darby, who is black, objected to the flag hanging in the chapel after it was brought to his attention by non-African-American constituents. According to Darby, the presence of the flag was troubling because of its association with opposition to Civil Rights. He said in an opinion piece published in The Post and Courier that the flag had no place at a school receiving public funds.
Last week, County Council voted 8-1, with Councilman Joe Qualey dissenting, to delay disbursement of $975,000 in funding for the debt on Johnson Hagood Stadium renovations pending the attorney general's opinion requested that day by state Sens. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, and Danny Verdin, R-Laurens.
"The law is the law and one has to abide by current law. I stood up for my constituents in spite of the controversy, challenges, and criticisms," Darby said Tuesday in an e-mail. "I did my best. If there are those who want to make changes within the law, they need to take it to the state level; but as I stand presently, it is time for County Council to move on."
The outcome disappointed, but didn't surprise Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP.
"It's not going to be palatable to the majority of African-American people and the people of good will," she said. "You cannot divorce the flag from the slavery issue."
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the attorney general's opinion settled the matter for the county.
"It's not a battle between the county and The Citadel. It's not our fight," he said.
Pryor said the college will receive the county check for stadium renovation debt in the new budget starting in July.
The Citadel said in a statement that the opinion resolves the issue for the college.
"We appreciate the Attorney General's attention in reviewing the case," said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Steele, chairman of The Citadel Board of Visitors.
"As the flag in the chapel is on public property and we are a state institution, we have a duty to follow the law," Steele said.
"We understand and respect the fact that any flag brings up strong emotions. We hope that the Attorney General's decision that the flag's location is set by the Heritage Act will bring closure for those who have raised this issue," he said.
The Naval Jack is among 57 flags hanging along the interior walls of the chapel.
The state's Heritage Act was passed by the S.C. Legislature in 2000 to protect established monuments and memorials located on public property that represent American wars or events of Native American and African-American significance. The legislation was part of a compromise reached to win support for removing the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse and relocating it to a monument on the grounds.