Clyburn Testimony at Rules Committee in Support of Clyburn-Smith Amendment to NDAA

May 17, 2016

WASHINGTONU.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn delivered the following statement at today’s meeting of the Rules Committee considering amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (as prepared for delivery):

            “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Madam Ranking Member, for the opportunity to testify before you today on the Clyburn-Smith amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

            “This amendment would prohibit senior ROTC programs at any institution that displays the Confederate battle flag in a location other than a museum exhibit.  This objectionable banner, which was never the official flag of the Confederacy, is a symbol of hate, racial oppression, resistance to the rule of law, and white supremacy.  Any doubt as to the flag’s meaning was erased by the perpetrator of the horrific shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17 of last year.

            “Regrettably, the Confederate battle flag still flies in my congressional district at The Citadel, just two miles away from Mother Emanuel.  The Citadel is the alma mater of one of the Emanuel victims, and six employees lost family members in the attack.  This flag must come down. 

            “While The Citadel’s Board of Visitors has taken a symbolic vote expressing support for the flag’s removal, the Board members believe that they are barred from actually removing it until the South Carolina state legislature acts to revise or repeal the so-called Heritage Act.  I happen to disagree with this legal judgment, but regardless, the flag still flies.

            “The bill as reported by the Armed Services Committee uses the Board’s hollow gesture to allow The Citadel to continue receiving federal funds for its ROTC program indefinitely, with no further action required to actually take the flag down.  But the bottom line is clear: the Confederate battle flag will not be removed from The Citadel until pressure is brought to bear on those with the authority to remove it.  And Americans’ tax dollars should be directed to institutions free of symbols of hatred.

            “In recent days, Citadel alumni have reached out to me to express their support for this effort.  One of these alumni, Dr. Larry Ferguson, was a member of The Citadel Class of 1973, which was the first class with more than one African American.  Dr. Ferguson desegregated The Citadel’s Regimental Band Company but was subsequently kicked out of the band for refusing to play the song ‘Dixie’ and refusing to wave the Confederate battle flag at sporting events. 

            “Dr. Ferguson writes, ‘50 years ago it took external pressure to make The Citadel desegregate its Corps of Cadets.  This legislation will exert appropriate pressure on state authorities so that the Confederate flag will be removed from Summerall Chapel.’

            “I received another letter from a group of 17 alumni from the 1980s and 1990s.  They write that the Confederate battle flag ‘is representative of an ideology of hate, privilege and an abuse of power that still persists in the life of the school and in the state’s halls of power and influence. The fact that in 2016 the Confederate Naval Jack Flag hangs in a public space of worship, on the campus of a public college, and is protected by an unjust law is clear evidence of this reality.  While we continue to work energetically to have the flag removed immediately from the chapel premises, we remain in support of your efforts to address this at the federal level of government.’

            “I urge my colleagues to heed the voices of these Citadel alumni so that no more cadets will have to struggle in the shadow of this oppressive banner.

            “It is important to note that even if the Clyburn-Smith amendment is enacted into law, no current student would be affected.  All current students would be allowed to keep their ROTC scholarships, complete their programs, and receive their commissions.

            “In spite of the Administration’s expression of concern to the contrary, this measure is constitutional, as is the underlying text of the bill, under the military deference doctrine. 

            “Explaining the reasons for this doctrine, under which military regulations are given greater deference than those in a purely civilian context, the Supreme Court has observed, ‘To accomplish its mission, the military must foster instinctive obedience, unity, commitment, and esprit de corps.’  Without a doubt, the Confederate battle flag undermines unity and esprit de corps. 

            “For this reason, the military constitutionally restricts displays of the Confederate battle flag by service members on active duty.  Similarly, it is unquestionably constitutional for the military to require that any institutions that train its officers not display this hateful banner.

            “The policy advanced by the Clyburn-Smith amendment received bipartisan support among members of the Armed Services Committee.  I respectfully urge this committee to make the Clyburn-Smith amendment in order so that all members of the House can have the opportunity to consider this important issue.”