COLUMBIA — A state lawmaker who opposed removing the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds earlier this year sent his colleagues a Christmas card featuring a picture of the rebel banner and advising them to ask forgiveness for their betrayal.

The card sent by Rep. Chris Corley, R-Graniteville, has a photo on the front of the Statehouse with the battle flag flying prominently in the foreground with Christmas wishes from the Corley family.

On the back, Corley excoriates those who voted to remove the banner from the Civil War soldiers memorial in the aftermath of the killing of nine black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June, allegedly by an avowed white supremacist who posted pictures of himself online posing with the Confederate battle flag.

“May your Christmas be filled with memories of a happier time when South Carolina’s leaders possessed morals, convictions and the principles to stand for what is right,” the card read. “May you have a blessed Christmas, and may you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal.”

The card also references Dante’s “Inferno,” consigning those guilty of treachery to hell.

“This is Cocytus, the ninth circle, the fourth and last great water of Hell, and here fixed in the ice, each according to his guilt, are punished sinners guilty of treachery against those who they are bound to by special ties,” the card reads.

Corley was among the staunchest defenders of keeping the flag on Statehouse grounds after Gov. Nikki Haley and black and white state lawmakers acknowledged the national outcry over flying what some consider a symbol of racism and slavery and joined the call to move it to a museum.

The battle flag had flown at the Statehouse since being placed atop the Capital dome in 1962 as a show of defiance to desegregation and the civil rights movement. It was moved to the flagpole beside the Confederate memorial in 2000 as part of a compromise in reaction to protests and boycotts.

As part of that compromise, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature was required to take down the flag, which was protected by the state’s Heritage Act. During the debate, Corley took to the floor to propose replacing the rebel banner with a white flag since in his view the Republican-controlled Legislature was surrendering.

“I sent out a Christmas card,” Corley said Thursday. “If you felt the card pointed out a hypocrisy that you had in terms of not listening to the people you represent and just voting the way you wanted to vote because you were caught up in the moment, then that’s more on your guilty conscious than it is newsworthy.”

Corley prefiled a bill on Thursday for the upcoming legislative session staring in January calling for a referendum that would let voters decide whether the Confederate battle flag should be restored to its previous place on the Statehouse grounds.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said he has a different interpretation of what the flag symbolizes.

“It is confusing at best,” Rutherford said, “to think that this is a member of the General Assembly talking about a symbol that has represented so much division, hatred and bloodshed.”

Corley said the card was a political statement to his fellow Republicans meant as a joke in a smart-aleck style. Democrats and others on his Christmas card list will get one with a picture of his children.

“If somebody’s feelings are legitimately hurt about that Christmas card, I think that might speak more to their conscience than the content of the card,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-577-7111.