WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of wrangling, the Pentagon on Friday will ban displays of the Confederate flag on military installations, in a carefully worded policy that doesn’t mention the word ban or that specific flag.
The policy, laid out in a memo obtained by The Associated Press, was described by officials as a creative way to bar the flag’s display without openly contradicting or angering President Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it.
Signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday night, the memo lists the types of flags that may be displayed at military installations. The Confederate flag is not among them — thus barring its display without singling it out in a “ban.” Details of the policy, which is expected to be released Friday, were first reported by the AP.
“We must always remain focused on what unifies us, our sworn oath to the Constitution and our shared duty to defend the nation,” Esper’s memo states. “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.”
Acceptable flags listed in the memo include the U.S. and state banners, flags of other allies and partners, the widely displayed POW/MIA flag and official military unit flags.
Confederate flags, monuments and military base names have become a national flashpoint in the weeks since the death of George Floyd. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities. Some state officials are considering taking them down, but they face vehement opposition in some areas.
According to a Defense Department official familiar with the matter, the decision not to name a specific prohibited flag was to ensure the policy would be apolitical and could withstand potential legal challenges based on free speech. The official said the White House is aware of the new policy.
Trump has flatly rejected any notion of changing base names, and has defended the flying of the Confederate flag, saying it’s a freedom of speech issue.
According to Esper’s memo, the display of unauthorized flags — such as the Confederate banner carried during the Civil War — is acceptable in museums, historical exhibits, works of art or other educational programs.
The Marine Corps has already banned the Confederate flag. Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, directed his commanders in early June to remove public displays of the Confederate battle flag. That flag, which some embrace as a symbol of heritage, “carries the power to inflame feelings of division” and can weaken the unit cohesion that combat requires, Berger said.