April 26, 2020 11:52 AM EDT

A Michigan state senator has apologized after wearing a face mask that resembled a Confederate flag during a senate debate regarding the governor’s emergency powers and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republican Sen. Dale Zorn had donned the mask as state senators debated revoking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers, which she has invoked to put in place a stay-at-home order that aims to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, a group of protesters rallied in the Michigan state capitol to urge Whitmer to reopen businesses and to permit the state’s residents to spend time out of their homes. Whitmer noted that some of the protesters had flown a Confederate flag.

The Republican Sen. Dale Zorn, denied that it was a Confederate flag, but described Confederate flags as a part of “our national history” in an interview with local news station WLNS.

“I told my wife it probably will raise some eyebrows, but it was not a Confederate flag,” Zorn told WLNS about his mask. “And, you know, I think even if was a Confederate flag, you know, we should be talking about teaching our national history in schools and that’s part of our national history. And it’s something we can’t just throw away because it is part of our history. And if we want to make sure that the atrocities that happened during that time doesn’t happen again, we should be teaching it. Our kids should know what that flag stands for.”

Zorn said that his wife had made the mask, and said she had told him that the pattern more closely resembled the state flag of Kentucky or Tennessee. However, others, including the Detroit Metro Times, pointed out that the mask more closely resembles the Confederate flag that either of those state flags.

On social media, many people pointed out that the flag is a common symbol of white supremacy, and that thousands of Michigan residents laid down their lives as part of the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Zorn apologized for wearing the mask via Twitter on Saturday, saying that he was sorry for his “choice of pattern” and “did not intend to offend anyone.”

 

State Senator Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, criticize Zorn’s mask on Twitter Friday, declaring that “The Confederate flag should never be worn, especially by an elected official. It dishonors our fellow Michiganders. It dishonors the battle flags in our rotunda. It dishonors our state.”

Jim Ananich, Democratic leader of the Michigan state senate, also said that he was “disappointed” that Zorn had decided to wear the mask.

“When he was called out for it, he didn’t seem to even understand or acknowledge what the problem was,” Ananich tweeted. “At a time when tensions are high and Michiganders are dying, this is a terrible distraction from the conversations we are having about how to save more lives.”

Write to Tara Law at tara.law@time.com.

Read More From TIME

Related Stories

EDIT POST