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Sen. Doug Mastriano eyes bill to defend Gettysburg's monuments

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch
FILE – In this June 5, 2013, file photo, a monument to Gen. Robert E. Lee mounted on his horse Traveller sits atop a ridge held by Confederate troops, above the field of Pickett's Charge in Gettysburg, Pa. National Park Service officials said in August 2017 that Confederate monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park will not be removed from the battlefield, and the park service's job is to historically and objectively tell the stories the monuments commemorate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, whose district is home to the 6,000-acre Gettysburg National Military Park, plans to introduce legislation that would protect monuments from vandalism.

Mastriano, R-Adams, is drafting legislation along with three other Senate Republicans that would strengthen existing state codes as well as implement new deterrents, according to a news release.

“In no society, should the vandalism of historic monuments, memorials, markers and statues become acceptable,” said Mastriano, whose 33rd District also includes a portion of York County. “Unfortunately, this type of behavior is occurring across our country, without effective state-level legislation being in place to discourage such actions.”

The other sponsors are Sens. Dave Arnold, Judy Ward and Dave Argall.

As part of the legislation, the state Attorney General would prioritize the prosecution of any matters related to the vandalism of monuments in Pennsylvania.

Monuments, particularly those dedicated to the Confederacy, have become increasingly controversial in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis earlier this year. 

Protests erupted targeting the disproportionate death rate of Black Americans during interactions with police.

The debate has also centered on how the U.S. has historically honored both sides of the Civil War, and protesters have toppled monuments nationwide.

Gettysburg's battlefield — the site of a key Civil War victory for the Union — features monuments to soldiers from both sides of the conflict. It also features a large bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, himself a slave owner. 

Meanwhile, monuments to Lee have been targeted for removal by local and state governments, including one in his home state of Virginia.

Southern states expressly seceded from the U.S. in an effort to protect the institution of slavery. State legislatures throughout the Confederacy listed the defense of slavery as the reason for attempting to leave the U.S.

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth," wrote the Mississippi Legislature in its article of secession in 1861. 

President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order boosting penalties for people who vandalize or destroy federal monuments. 

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.

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