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H.R. 4179: No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act

Should the Confederate flag and other similar memorial items be kept up or created on federal land?

Context

In recent years, public pressure has increased to remove public monuments to the slave-owning Confederacy.

This movement was especially motivated by two incidents: 2015’s racially motivated mass shooting by a white man against a largely African-American church in South Carolina, plus 2017’s violent Unite the Right rally to maintain a statue of a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Several states which had previously flown the flag outside their statehouses or governor’s mansion took it down, most prominently South Carolina. Organizations and businesses from NASCAR to Walmart and Amazon also announced they would no longer feature the Confederate flag symbol.

However, monuments to the Confederacy still stand on some federal public lands.

What the bill does

The No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act would ban any federal taxpayer dollars from being used to “create, maintain, or display” a Confederate emblem — most notably the Confederate flag design — on federal public land.

Most Confederate symbols still on public land display are on state land though, primarily in the south, rather than federal land. For example, Mississippi flies its state flag featuring the Confederate emblem outside of its statehouse.

The legislation was introduced in the House on August 9 as bill number H.R. 4179, by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY13).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the symbols stand for hatred and divisiveness, and have no place being permitted on federal public land.

“The Confederate Battle Flag remains one of the most intractable symbols from the darkest chapter in U.S. history representing racism, slavery, the oppression of African Americans,” Rep. Espaillat said in a press release. “In the two years since the violence and death that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, we must remember that in our recent history we witnessed men and women don white hoods and torches in the light of day to venerate a symbol of the Confederacy.”

“Since that day of violence and death, our nation has continued to witness tragedy after tragedy inspired by white-supremacist ideologies and efforts to memorialize white-nationalist screed,” Rep. Espaillat continued. “These sentiments are manifest in Confederate symbols that remain present to this day and their continued presence will only further inflame our country as inspiration for those who seek to use their example to stoke division and fear.”

What opponents say

Opponents argue that the symbols and flags are a testament to what some Southerners consider a proud heritage and that removing them could prove to be a slippery slope of ignoring the United States’ past.

“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” President Trump said at a press conference shortly after the Charlottesville rally turned violent. “You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 13 House cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Armed Services, Natural Resources, or Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

A previous version introduced in 2017 attracted 45 House cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote. On the one hand, that’s more than triple the current 13 cosponsors. On the other hand, odds of passage in that chamber are higher now that Democrats control the House, although it would still face tough odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Last updated Sep 13, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Aug 9, 2019.


No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act

This bill prohibits federal funds from being used for the creation, maintenance, or display of any Confederate symbol on federal public land or other federal property.

An exception to such prohibition is provided (1) if the use of such funds is necessary to allow for the removal of the Confederate symbol to address public safety; or (2) in the case of a Confederate symbol created, maintained, or displayed in a museum or educational exhibit.

The Department of Defense shall redesignate the following military installations with such designation as it determines appropriate:

Fort Rucker, Alabama, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Gordon, Georgia, Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Fort Lee, Virginia, and Fort Pickett, Virginia.