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South Carolina lawmakers poised to debate Confederate flag

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Jeffrey Collins/AP

(Read caption) William Cheek (l.) Nelson Waller (c.) and Jim Collins (r.) protest proposals to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse on Monday, in Columbia, S.C. The General Assembly returns Monday to discuss Gov. Nikki Haley's budget vetoes and what to do with the rebel flag that has flown over some part of the Statehouse for more than 50 years.

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South Carolina lawmakers are putting the Confederate flag to a vote.

The state’s legislature returns Monday to discuss what to do with the US Civil War rebel flag that has flown on the state capitol’s grounds for more than 50 years. The debate, ongoing for decades, saw revived national attention following last month’s massacre of nine people in Charleston by a man who appeared to have been motivated by a white supremacist group and was photographed holding the Confederate flag.

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A growing chorus, denouncing the flag’s ties to the South’s slave-owning past, has since called for its removal, while others have argued that the flag represents a tradition of southern pride. Several removal bills have been filed in the legislature, but details such as when to bring down the flag and whether to put another in its place have yet to be specified.

At least 33 senators and 83 House members from both parties support South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her call to take the flag down, The Post and Courier newspaper found in a June 29 poll. The numbers constitute the two-thirds majority needed under the law to remove the flag.

“I just think that it’s time,” Rep. Mike Forrester (R), told the Post and Courier. “It’s causing too many problems.... I think it needs to be in a place of honor, but probably not on the Statehouse grounds.”

Other lawmakers were less equivocal.

“This is not a time to talk about compromise,” Democratic State Sen. Gerald Malloy told the Associated Press. “That flag pole should be replaced with some beautiful green grass.”

Still, not everyone agrees.

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Republican State Sen. Lee Bright, who is trying to raise money with Confederate flag bumper stickers with the message “keep your hands off my flag,” wrote in a statement on his website: “In South Carolina, we know what this flag symbolizes: resistance against a federal, centralized power that far overreached its constitutional limits. It proudly symbolizes states' rights and constitutional liberties, which many have fought and died for.”

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And about 57 percent of Americans today see the flag as a symbol of southern pride and not of racism, according to a CNN/ORC poll conducted at the end of June. The same survey, however, found that a slight majority of Americans favors removing the Confederate flag from government property that isn't part of a museum: 55 percent are for the idea while 43 percent are against it.

Twenty-nine of the state’s 46 senators have also signed onto bipartisan legislation that would transfer the flag to a military museum. The state Senate is expected to vote on the flag’s fate first; a debate in the House of Representatives will follow.

South Carolina legislators voted to raise the Confederate flag atop the State House dome in 1962 to commemorate the Civil War’s centennial, the Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported. Critics have since called it a challenge to the civil rights movement, which at the time was beginning to gain momentum.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.