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Judge avoids ruling on law protecting Confederate monuments

COLUMBIA (AP) A city in South Carolina can change the listing of names of soldiers killed in World War I on a private monument so they are no longer listed as “colored” or “white,” a judge ruled.

Circuit Judge Frank Addy’s ruling May 18 avoided a larger decision on whether a South Carolina law called the Heritage Act, which prevents changes on public monuments honoring the Confederacy and other historical events and figures without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, is constitutional.

Several people associated with the American Legion sued after the efforts to put new plaques on a war memorial in Greenwood that did not segregate the names of area soldiers killed in World War I were stopped by people invoking the Heritage Act.

South Carolina’s General Assembly passed the act in 2000 as part of a compromise that removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome and placed it on the capitol lawn. The flag was removed from the Statehouse entirely in 2015, but the law protecting historical monuments and street and building names from being changed without permission remains.

The people suing wanted Addy to find the Heritage Act unconstitutional because it prevents local governments from having free speech by removing or changing a monument that they no longer support.

But instead, Addy ruled that since the American Legion was a private organization, it could change the monument, which sits on public land in downtown Greenwood.

Abby wrote in his ruling he made the decision with “full respect for and agreement with the laudable objectives of the (Heritage) Act.”

Shortly after lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse in the summer of 2015 after nine people, including a state senator, were killed in a racist attack at an African-American church in Charleston, House Speaker Jay Lucas said his chamber would not consider changing any monuments or other items honoring the Confederacy or other historical eras.

The Republican from Hartsville has given no indication he has changed his mind. Any effort to repeal the Heritage Act or change monuments since has gone nowhere in the Legislature even as other Southern cities like Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans have removed Confederate monuments.

Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams said the plaques on the monument will be changed soon. He commissioned the new plaques and scheduled a ceremony to put them up right before the legal dispute began.

He said lawyers are also considering an appeal of Addy’s decision not to address whether the Heritage Act is constitutional.

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