- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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July 7

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on historic day in the Senate:

The Senate’s overwhelming vote on Monday to furl the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds was an important act of reconciliation for South Carolina, made more notable by the heartfelt spirit in which the action was taken.

The 37-3 vote was an overdue recognition that the battle flag is a symbol of division that should no longer be flying at the state’s seat of government.

In view of past legislative battles over the flag, the Senate vote was a stunning response to Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to bring down the flag in the wake of the racially motivated shooting that left nine dead at Emanuel AME Church.

“What happened a couple of weeks ago opened the eyes of many people in South Carolina and many people in this chamber,” said Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Kershaw.

By their own comments, it was clear that the Senate majority was guided by their deep admiration for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, who was among those killed at the Charleston church on June 17.

And the sudden turnaround was further inspired by the family members of those slain, who expressed their forgiveness of the accused killer in the Christian spirit of Rev. Pinckney’s ministry.

Many in South Carolina - including some members of the Senate - revere the battle flag under which their ancestors gallantly fought against overwhelming odds.

But for others, the flag has bleak associations: slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.

And while the flag might have been raised over the Statehouse 53 years ago to mark the centennial of the Civil War, it also represented the opposition of state leaders to civil rights.

“It’s part of our history,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens. “It isn’t part of our future.”

Thankfully, the Senate didn’t try to pass the controversy to the voters. It overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, for a non-binding statewide referendum on the flag issue.

Nor would the Senate permit another less controversial Confederate banner to fly at the Confederate monument.

The historical argument for keeping the flag there was countered by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who invoked Confederate Gens. Wade Hampton and Robert E. Lee, both of whom said that their banners should be furled following the Civil War.

Senators who were present for the hard-fought compromise that brought the flag down from the Statehouse dome in 2000 acknowledged that was no longer adequate.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, rightly called the vote one of the most historic in memory. In his remarks, Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, spoke movingly of Sen. Pinckney’s deep faith and of his creed that it is every individual’s duty in life to make a positive difference.

His Senate colleagues did so on Monday.

The House of Representatives should follow the Senate’s lead and complete the historic resolution of the flag controversy this week.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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July 4

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on challenges that remain to same-sex marriage:

Same-sex marriage now is the law of the land. But the nation still will have to work out some legal kinks before the right of same-sex couples to marry is fully recognized.

The 5-4 decision handed down by the Supreme Court June 26 essentially confirmed a right already granted by a majority of states. Perhaps just as significantly, it also reflected the rapidly emerging view of a large majority of Americans that same-sex couples should have the same marital rights and privileges as married heterosexuals.

The ruling has the practical effect of creating uniformity nationwide for same-sex couples. Gay marriage now is legal in every state, and all states must recognize the marriages of gay couples from other states.

The triumph of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage is an epic moment in the annals of civil rights in America. It is all the more remarkable for the speed with which it occurred.

While the history of discrimination - both official and otherwise - against gays is far too long, the progression of events from the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, when most Americans opposed same-sex marriage, to the recent court ruling that legalized it has been singularly swift. And, as noted, those events occurred during an equally rapid change in public opinion.

This momentous change is certain to be a landmark in the nation’s history, a moment Americans will look back on with pride in much the same way we now view the civil rights victories for African-Americans in the 1960s. Future generations are likely to wonder why some groups were so insistent on denying marriage rights and other protections under the law for gays and lesbians for so long.

But despite the seeming finality of the court’s decision, legal skirmishes over gay rights will continue to be fought. The call for the protection of religious liberties also has become a rallying cry among a number of Republican presidential candidates who oppose gay marriage.

Fundamental religious liberties, of course, are protected by the First Amendment. No members of the clergy would ever be forced to conduct a private gay marriage ceremony if it went against their religious beliefs.

But some conflicts between the rights of gay couples and religious organizations are likely to find their way into the courts. For example, should faith-based social service agencies that receive government grants be forced to hire gay employees? Should religiously affiliated schools that oppose same-sex marriage be barred from receiving government grants and contracts?

On a larger scale, however, it is doubtful that the law will permit what amounts to the right to discriminate against gays in the marketplace. Those who open businesses won’t - and shouldn’t - be permitted to deny service to gay couples on religious grounds.

The principle is no different from rulings 50 years ago that prohibited businesses from discriminating against black customers. If you’re open for business with the public, you need to serve everyone.

Likewise, public officials, whatever their religious beliefs, should be obligated to assist all people equally. If magistrates, county clerks and justices of the peace refuse to issue marriage licenses or conduct civil marriage ceremonies for gay couples, they should be forced to find a new line of work.

We hear a lot about honoring people’s “sincerely” held beliefs. But sincerity is not necessarily a measure of whether one’s beliefs are right or legally justifiable.

Same-sex marriage now is legal nationwide. That is reason for millions of Americans to celebrate.

The rest will have to adjust.

Online:

https://www.heraldonline.com

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July 6

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on settlement by BP:

BP’s record $18.7 billion settlement last week related to the Gulf Oil Spill should come as another reminder to not get too gung-ho about drilling off South Carolina’s coast.

In all, the company, which was responsible for the release of millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf after a 2010 explosion, will incur more than $40 billion in costs related to the spill. BP has tried to highlight its cleanup efforts aimed at reducing the long-term environmental damage to Gulf beaches and wildlife, but the ecosystem there won’t likely recover for decades.

This should be a reminder concerning the need for our country’s energy future, especially when it comes to coastal drilling. Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior recommended seismic testing along the Carolinas, as well as Virginia and potentially down to Florida, to test for the possible oil levels. Each state, including the Palmetto State, faces a dilemma after the agency’s decision.

While drilling offshore could mean a boom in jobs, it easily presents dire environmental consequences, as well. While present data about our oil reserves off the coast are largely outdated, an Interior Department estimate in 2010 indicated that about 2 billion barrels could exist off the Atlantic. It’s important to note that such an amount equals only about 100 days of oil at the country’s current consumption rate, according to Newsweek.

A large-scale environmental disaster would be too high a price to pay for such a limited supply of energy. Drilling proponents say lower energy prices and greater energy independence could be the result of exploring the Atlantic Coast. Finding sources of domestic energy is positive, and drilling on private lands has thankfully made the U.S. much less dependent on foreign oil. None of that, though, warrants drilling off of South Carolina’s coast.

Our lawmakers shouldn’t minimize very real environmental concerns, especially in light of the Gulf spill. Our state’s natural resources, particularly our beautiful beaches, are viewed as our greatest economic driver through tourism dollars.

Let’s not lose sight of protecting that priceless asset merely for short-lived economic benefits.

Online:

https://www.aikenstandard.com

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