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Esper unveils guidance on symbols effectively banning Confederate flag on military installations

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a new...

Posted: Jul 17, 2020 9:35 AM
Updated: Jul 17, 2020 2:00 PM

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a new Defense Department policy Friday that will act as a defacto ban on the display of the Confederate flag.

The new guidance governs the display and depiction of flags on military installations, and while the policy does not specifically mention the Confederate battle flag, it is not listed among the flags permitted to be displayed.

The new policy comes amid an ongoing debate about the display of the Confederate battle flag and whether military installations named paying tribute to Confederate officers should be renamed. President Donald Trump has resisted renaming these military bases.

Some military services such as the Marine Corps have already issued bans on the display of the Confederate battle flag. NASCAR has also banned the display of the flag at its events and Mississippi recently moved to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag.

'Rejecting divisive symbols'

'I am committed to fielding the most powerful military force the world has known by strengthening the bonds of our most valuable resource -- our people. That is why we honor the American flag, which is the principal flag we are authorized and encouraged to display,' Esper wrote in the memo, a copy of which has been obtained by CNN.

'The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols,' Esper added.

Esper presented the guidance Friday morning to senior Defense Department leaders and commanders and noted that flags are powerful symbols, particularly in the military community for whom flags embody common mission, common histories, and the special, timeless bonds of warriors, according to a Pentagon statement.

The new guidance applies to public displays or depictions of flags by service members and civilian employees in all Department of Defense workplaces, common access areas, and public areas.

Non-sanctioned flags, such as the confederate battle flag, are not prohibited from being displayed in 'museum exhibits, state-issued license plates, grave sites, memorial markers, monuments, educational displays, historical displays, or works of art, where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as endorsement of the flag by the Department of Defense,' according to a memo on the new policy.

A defense official confirmed that Black Lives Matter flags and LGBTQ pride flags and depictions of flags will not be allowed either.

A defense official familiar with the decision told CNN that the decision to not name a specific prohibited flag 'was to ensure the department-wide policy would be apolitical and withstand potential free speech political challenges, but that the services are still free to act on other flags.'

The official said that the 'White House is aware of new policy.'

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, issued a policy banning the display of the flag on installations back in April and the Navy said it was also working on an order to ban the flag.

The defense official said that 'Esper supports the Marine Corps' decision.'

This story has been updated with additional background information.

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