The Confederate battle flag flies outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Thousands of protesters showed up Saturday to show their disapproval of the flag's presence on the Capitol grounds. Photo by Kevin Liles/UPI | License Photo
COLUMBIA, S.C., June 22 (UPI) -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday called for the state assembly to vote to remove the Confederate flag from Capitol grounds in the wake of a racially motivated shooting at a church that killed nine people in Charleston.
Haley said that though the flag is seen by some South Carolinians as a symbol of history and a memorial to ancestors who fought in the American Civil War, others see it as "a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.
"Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds," she said.
Haley made her case at the Statehouse flanked by a bipartisan group of state and federal lawmakers, including Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Lindsey Graham. The senator initially defended the Confederate flag Saturday morning, saying, "It's him, not the flag," referring to Dylann Roof, the man accused of opening fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week.
After Haley's speech, Graham tweeted his reaction:
Haley's news conference came after numerous comments from politicians on both sides of the aisle saying the flag -- often associated with racism and white supremacist groups -- should not fly on Capitol grounds.
President Barack Obama called for the flag to be taken down Friday.
"The president has said before he believes the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, and that is still his position," spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, tweeted his support for the removal of the flag.
"Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol," he wrote. "To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims."
Haley said she respects freedom of speech and that people who wish to fly the Confederate flag on their private property should be free to do so. She said that should the South Carolina General Assembly not debate the removal of the flag before the end of its regular session next week, she'll call lawmakers back into session under extraordinary circumstances.
"For good and for bad, whether it is on the Statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina," Haley said. "But this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."
Later Monday, Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, a Republican, called for the Confederate flag emblem to be removed from the Mississippi state flag.
The Mississippi flag features three horizontal bars of blue, white and red -- from top to bottom -- with the Confederate emblem inset in the upper left-hand corner.
"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn said in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."