The S.C. Secessionist Party’s reservation to hold a rally Sunday at the State House was reinstated Friday at the request of Gov. Nikki Haley.
“The governor believes that the State House grounds belong to all people, whether she agrees with their views or not,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said. “She also believes that people’s constitutional rights mean something, and that, certainly, includes the rights to free speech and free assembly.
“When she was made aware of the reservation cancellation, she met with law enforcement officials, and after being assured that they could handle the public safety concerns that exist, the governor asked that the reservation be reinstated.”
The reservation for the rally – scheduled to celebrate the 155th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union – was canceled last week after state police cited security concerns. Counter-protests are planned.
In a letter to the Secessionist Party, the S.C. Department of Administration said it had reinstated its reservation despite ongoing security concerns. The state Department of Public Safety said it will provide “appropriate security measures” at the rally.
In July, supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and Black Panthers clashed during rallies at the State House held a week after the Confederate battle flag was removed from the State House grounds. Police arrested five people during the rallies.
Haley, a Lexington Republican who called for the Confederate flag’s removal in the wake of nine slayings at an African-American church in Charleston, was not consulted when the Secessionist Party’s reservation was pulled last week, her office said.
Civil liberties groups contended the state should reinstate the reservation and provide protection at the rally if needed. Secessionist Party founder James Bessenger said he and his lawyer were on their way to the federal courthouse in Columbia with a complaint when they received news about the reinstatement of the reservation.
Bessenger said Haley, who has been criticized by Confederate flag supporters for suggesting lawmakers punt the Civil War banner from the State House, decided to reinstate the reservation to avoid a legal battle.
Getting back the reservation was a victory for free speech, he said, though the party planned to hold its rally without a permit if necessary.
“This wasn’t just about us,” Bessenger said. “This was about the rights of anyone – Democrat, Republican, white, black – being able to hold a rally without it being hijacked by radicals.”