On Monday afternoon, the South Carolina Senate passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag flying on statehouse grounds. While 37 senators voted in support of the measure, three voted against it: Harvey S. Peeler, Jr., the Senate majority leader, as well as Lee Bright and Daniel B. Verdin, III.
None of the three senators could be reached for comment, but their arguments on the senate floor reveal their reasoning. Bright objected to the bill three different times during the debate. “Members of the Senate,” he said the first time, “I heard our president sing a religious hymn, and that Friday night, I watched the White House be lit up in the abomination colors.” He continued:
This nation was founded on Judeo-Christain principles and they are under assault by men in black robes who are not elected by you… What I would like to see is these folks that are working in the positions that are doing … marriage certificates do not have to betray their faith or compromise their faith and in order to subject [themselves] to the tyranny of five… Our governor called us in to deal with the flag that sits out front. Let’s deal with the national sin that we face today. We talk about abortion, but this gay marriage thing I believe we will be one nation gone under, like President Reagan said.
Bright concluded his remarks by urging South Carolina to “push back against the federal government like our forefathers did.” When he spoke a second time, he argued that the people of South Carolina should get to vote on whether or not to take down the flag. The third time, he admitted that the men who fought under the Confederate flag were white supremacists. “You read what these men said, by today’s standards they were white supremacists,” he said. “And they were! They believed in the supremacy of the white race.” And yet, he insisted that actions of the racist Charleston mass shooter should not be connected to the Confederate flag:
Is it about that flag [or] is it about that lunatic that was waving that flag… I can’t imagine it was over a flag. I think it was just pure evil incarnate. What happened out in Colorado? There wasn’t a Confederate flag. What happened in New Jersey? There wasn’t a Confederate flag. Any time there’s a mass shooting, this is the first time I’m aware of that the Confederate flag is the culprit.
Senator Verdin called for a Confederate Memorial holiday in early May, when the flag could fly for 12 hours, from “sunrise to sunset.” The senator also argued that a bare pole for the flag should remain up the other 364 days of the year. It’s hard to imagine that the bare pole wouldn’t itself serve as a constant reminder of the flag.
Senator Peeler has argued that removing the flag and putting it in a museum was pointless because “the statehouse capital complex is the greatest museum in the entire state.” He also argued that removing the flag from statehouse grounds “would be like removing a tattoo from the corpse of a loved one and thinking that would change the loved one’s obituary.” He continued, “We won’t change history by removing the flag.”
The senator is correct on that last point: Taking the flag down won’t change history. But it could help change race relations in the future—and 37 other senators voted yes to that. Now it’s the state House of Representatives’s turn.