The South Carolina legislature decided Tuesday to schedule a debate on whether to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
The measure comes after Governor Nikki Haley suggested Monday that the Confederate flag be removed from the capitol grounds in Columbia following the murder of nine black worshipers, including state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, in the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C. last week. Calls for the flag’s removal intensified after photos surfaced the accused shooter, 21-year old Dylann Roof, posing next to the Confederate flag.
“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” Haley said Monday in a news conference at the state capitol, flanked by American and South Carolina state flags. “For many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol.”
State Representative Leon Howard, a Democrat, told TIME last week that voting for removing the flag could be politically dangerous for many Republicans. But now that Haley, a Republican, has called for the flag’s removal, some are hoping her colleagues in the legislature may follow her lead. Protesters gathered in front of the state capitol and chanted “take it down” as lawmakers entered the building.
On Tuesday lawmakers didn’t vote on whether to lower the flag—they just decided to formally consider on it. Removing the Confederate flag would require a two-thirds majority from each chamber of the legislature, since the flag’s presence is guaranteed by the South Carolina Heritage Act of 2000. According to a poll of lawmakers conducted Tuesday by the Charleston Post-Courier, about 40% of surveyed state lawmakers said they supported removing the flag, but the majority dodged the question or wouldn’t state an opinion.
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