In a few days, the 2007 legislative session will be history. And it will be soon forgotten, as most legislative sessions are.

What our General Assembly is famous for doing is nothing — nothing at all. When it does rouse itself to act, it is usually in some Neanderthal rage against civil rights or women’s rights, or any sign of rational awakening or global awareness. Nothing demonstrates this mentality more clearly than the Confederate flag that still flies on the lawn in front of our Statehouse.

South Carolina has paid a high price for that forlorn piece of vainglory. Due to the boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), we have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism, conventions, trade shows, and sporting events.

Yet, the flag is here to stay. On newspaper op-ed pages around the state recently, Charleston’s own Sen. Glenn McConnell said the flag will remain in front of the Statehouse, so there is no use complaining about it. “No one can persuasively argue that it represents bigotry or slavery,” he wrote. “Symbols are defined by the people who display them — and by the context of their use.”

The American Nazi Party was persuaded that the flag has everything to do with bigotry and slavery. That’s why they chose the Statehouse steps in Columbia for a national rally last month. The Nazi presidential candidate praised the flag, while his fans cheered and displayed their own Confederate flags around him. (See it all at http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/.)

At the same time the Nazis chose Columbia for their rally, that strange group called Christian Exodus was stepping up its efforts to bring radical Christian separatists to S.C. from around the country, with the idea of eventually taking over local governments, then the state government, and imposing a Bible-based “Christian” legal code. In a Christian Exodus state, there would be no room for dissent, diversity, or minority views. As Christian Exodus leader Corey Burnell has said, “The majority will vote and the majority will rule. Those in disagreement can relocate or change their ideas to fit with the majority.” And if the federal government has any problem with this, Burnell and his followers are willing and ready to secede. Isn’t that what the Confederate flag is all about?

There is no question that S.C. has an image problem. We are sending out a lot of very bad vibes, and a lot of very ugly people are responding by coming here. Tsk, tsk. What’s a poor state to do?

Well, I think it’s time we change our image and if we can’t bring down the Flag of Shame, then it’s time to pass a hate crime law. It’s much too late to get it on the agenda for this legislative session, but it should be first in line for consideration when the solons return to Columbia in January.

After all, S.C. is one of only three states that does not have a hate crime statute, while 15 other states protect other minorities, but not gays. The murder of a young gay man on the street in front of a Greenville bar on May 17 indicates the need for such a law. State murder charges have been brought against an 18-year-old man for striking and killing 20-year-old Sean William Kennedy “without legal provocation with implication that this was the result of the defendant not liking the sexual identity of the victim,” according to the convoluted language of the murder warrant. The killing is also being investigated by the FBI, which may bring hate crime charges, since the state has no such authority.

Of course, any attempt to pass hate crime legislation in this state will meet fierce resistance from the Christian Right, which infests the Upstate like lice. Right-wing Christians have adopted hate-crime legislation as one of their rallying points. Today they are mobilized against a new federal hate crime law, which the White House has said it will veto if it gets out of Congress.

Rabid Christians have attacked the bill as anti-Christian and pro-terrorist. They claim that ministers will be jailed for criticizing gays and parents will be jailed for disciplining their children. (Go to GovTrack.com and check out HR 1592 for yourself. Then Google it and find out what the Christians are saying about it. Not surprisingly, this malicious nonsense has made its way onto the pages of the Post and Courier in a May 13 letter to the editor.)

Passing this federal hate crime legislation would be an act of faith in our own best nature. And passing a state hate crime law would send a powerful signal that South Carolinians will no be bullied by the worst elements among us. We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the country.