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The dispute over the Confederate flag flying near a Russell Street restaurant continues, with the two sides arguing in front of a circuit court judge on Monday.

An attorney for the restaurant’s owner claims the city’s zoning ordinance doesn’t allow the flag in front of the Edisto River Creamery.

The City of Orangeburg's Board of Zoning Appeals decided in August 2017, however, that the flag can remain.

The owner of the restaurant appealed, leading to Monday’s 20-minute hearing before Judge Maite Murphy. She’s expected to make a decision at a later date.

The dispute stems from a small parcel of land at the corner of Russell Street and John C. Calhoun Drive. It was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans Rivers Bridge Camp 842 by the restaurant’s previous owner for a historical display including the flag.

The restaurant’s current owner wants the display gone.

His attorney, state Rep. Justin Bamberg, argued the historical display violates the City of Orangeburg’s zoning since the land is zoned for commercial property.

"It is very clear in looking at the record before the court that the city of Orangeburg does in fact zone for historical conservation districts," Bamberg said.

He said the city has danced around the issue.

"It is pretty simple that in looking at the facts presented and looking at the law that exists the city has made an incorrect judgment,” Bamberg said.

Restaurant owner Tommy Daras said if the property is being used for business purposes, it should have a business license.

"My attorney did a heck of job the way he explained the situation that the land use is one thing and the flag is another," Daras said. "They are two separate deals."

Bamberg is representing Daras in the case for free.

Attorney Lauren Martel, who is representing SCV Camp 842, argued the matter has been studied and researched by the city's zoning administrator, the city's attorney and the city's zoning board and that no new arguments have been presented on the appeal.

"Even if the city were to regulate the location of flag poles and the display of flags, those would be based on content and regulation is supposed to be content neutral," Martel said.

In May 2017, the City of Orangeburg’s Public Works Department reviewed whether the display meets city guidelines.

Orangeburg Zoning Administrator David Epting later issued a decision noting the “display of flags is a form of speech protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Bamberg appealed Epting’s ruling to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, telling them he was challenging whether the display was allowed in the area. He said he wasn’t challenging free speech.

In August of last year, Orangeburg’s Board of Zoning Appeals ruled the city’s zoning ordinance does not regulate flags, flag poles, flag content or the location of historical markers or landmarks. Its decision allowed the flag to remain at the site.

Following Monday’s hearing, Martel declined any comment due to pending litigation.

"It goes without saying that I would feel a lot better if I was standing here with you if the judge had ruled in our favor," SCV 842 flag keeper Joseph "Buzz" Braxton said after the hearing. "I am a human being and would like to have good news instead of no news as of yet."

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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