Pentagon draft policy would ban Confederate flag displays

WASHINGTON (AP) — A draft policy circulated by Pentagon leaders would ban the display of the Confederate flag in Defense Department workplaces or public areas by service members and civilian personnel.

The draft policy, which has not been finalized or signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, was making the rounds as President Donald Trump on Monday criticized NASCAR’s decision to ban the flag at its races and venues. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the draft.

If approved, the draft Pentagon policy would bring the other military services in line with the Marine Corps, which banned Confederate displays on its bases in early June. Other military services had been poised to make similar decisions, but they were stalled when Esper said he wanted a review of the matter that would come up with a consistent department policy.

Officials said the draft was sent out to service leaders for their input and response last week. It was not clear what, if any, input the White House had on the plan, or if Trump would object to it or move to stop it.

Trump, in a tweet Monday, said that NASCAR’s “Flag decision” and the uproar over a noose found hanging in the garage of the sport’s only Black full-time driver were driving down the sport’s’ television ratings — an assertion that Fox Sports and NBC said was inaccurate given an increase in viewership. And Trump suggested that driver Bubba Wallace should apologize after the sport rallied around him when the noose was found in his assigned stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Federal authorities ruled last month the noose had been hanging since October and was not a hate crime. Only NASCAR and the FBI have referred to the rope, which was used to pull the garage door closed, as a noose. A crew member, not Wallace, had found the rope and reported it.

The proposed policy states that to do its mission, the military “must cultivate an environment in which we trust one another completely and treat each other with dignity and respect. Unlike the United States flag, the Confederate battle flag tends to promote division not unity, among our people.” It concludes that “the flag that we wear on our sleeves today, the flag we drape on the coffins of our people who have given their lives for our nation” is the U.S. flag.

U.S. officials said Monday that service chiefs and secretaries meeting with Esper in the Pentagon last week expressed frustration with the department’s inaction on the matter. And they said they have been hearing from service members questioning why officials haven’t acted on a ban. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

According to the draft documents a ban would preserve “the morale of our personnel, good order and discipline within the military ranks and unit cohesion.” A memo with the draft notes that a “significant” population of service members and their families are minorities and “it is beyond doubt” that many “take grave offense at such a display.”

The memo, prepared by Matthew Donovan, undersecretary for personnel, says the ban applies to public displays of the flag on installations and facilities that are under department control, and would not apply to things like license plates or monuments not governed by the Pentagon. A one-page letter from the Pentagon general counsel included with the draft policy said those limits provide a legal basis for the ban, which otherwise might risk lawsuits.

In his memo, Donovan notes that creating a department-wide policy is prudent given the Marine Corps’ actions and “ongoing race-related protests across the country,”

“The public display of the Confederate battle flag on military installations sends a divisive message and risks discouraging enlistment” by those who view the display as a sign that some individuals aren’t welcome or “viewed as lesser within the military community,”

The draft policy does not prohibit the private possession or display of the flag, or showing it in plain view on sites that are not on department property.