Town changes policy, allows Confederate flags in cemetery

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Confederate flags are no longer banned from the Warrenton, Va., cemetery now that the town council has repealed a rule banning all flags other than those of the United States and Virginia.

Town manager John Anzivino said the council's intent last month was not to ban Rebel flags, but to regulate decorations — primarily artificial flowers — in the historical cemetery. “The council realized that prohibiting flags other than the U.S. and Virginia flags was an oversight,” he said.

Sam Tarr, a member of the council, agreed. “In the process of standardizing banners in the cemetery, we said that only the American and Virginia flags would be allowed, forgetting about the Confederate flags and other flags,” he said.

After passage of the regulation, Robert G. Brown pointed out the oversight to council members.

Brown — a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to The Washington Post — told the paper: “When I heard about this, I just sort of saw red. Political correctness being what it is these days, intolerant people want to equate the flag with racism, rather than heritage.”

Last week, the council reconsidered and redrafted its cemetery regulations.

The new policy on flags provides: “Flags may be placed on all grave sites with proper respect and etiquette being utilized and observed. Flags shall not be larger than 12″ x 18″ and will be placed in front of the headstone in a flag holder or medallion or by any other method with prior approval of the Town Manager.”

“There was never any subversive effort on the part of our council to silence a particular viewpoint,” Anzivino said. “This is a very above-board group. Humans make mistakes. They saw a mistake and corrected it.”

“Everybody on the council agreed it was an oversight,” Tarr said. “We do have Confederate soldiers buried in our cemetery.”

Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman for the Freedom Forum, said: “What the town council discovered was how seriously people take their symbols and symbolic speech. To their credit, the town officials quickly regained their First Amendment footing and acted to correct the impression that they were trying to regulate speech.

“Lawmakers, whether at the community or congressional level, should be wary of how they treat flags — or mistreat them,” McMasters said.