The U.S. Department of Defense is effectively banning the display of the Confederate flag at military installations, the agency announced Friday in a statement that does not mention the flag or the ban.
“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,” the statement said.
The statement described the U.S. banner as “the principal flag we are authorized and encouraged to display.” The statement also said, “Service members and civilian employees are authorized to display or depict representational flags that promote unity and esprit de corps.”
Officials described the move as a creative way to prohibit the display of the Confederate flag without drawing the wrath of President Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it and denounced the NASCAR auto racing series for banning it.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo Thursday night that lists the kinds of flags that can be displayed at military facilities, but the Confederate flag is not among them.
Today I issued a memorandum to the force on the display of flags at @DeptofDefense facilities. With this change in policy, we will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defense of our great Nation. pic.twitter.com/YQPc3kxf4V— Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) July 17, 2020
A Defense Department official with knowledge of the issue said the decision not to mention a specific flag was designed to be politically neutral and to endure possible legal challenges based on the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech.
In recent debate over whether to change the names of some U.S. military bases named after Confederate military officers, Trump has said he is opposed to name changes and has defended the display of the Confederate flag, maintaining it’s a freedom-of-speech issue.
The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General David Berger, banned the display of the Confederate flag in early June, saying while some consider it a symbol of heritage, it “carries the power to inflame feelings of division” that could weaken cohesion among service members that combat requires.
The U.S. Navy and military commands in Japan and South Korea have also acted in recent months to ban the flag, but an official said Esper told the services to suspend their efforts until he could release a departmentwide policy.
Flags, monuments and other symbols representing the Confederacy have come under intense scrutiny since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, triggering anti-racism protests throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world.
VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.