A committee of Virginia legislators approved a bill today that would honor the lost cause of South Vietnam through the display of the republic's old flag, a proposal that heartened many war refugees in the Washington region but was quickly condemned by the Vietnamese government as "insolent."

The bill, approved 8 to 6 by the House Rules Committee, would require that the flag of the defeated Republic of Vietnam, rather than the official flag of the communist government, be displayed at any public function. Public schools and colleges also would be required to display only the old flag.

The measure's sponsor, Del. Robert D. Hull (D-Fairfax), said the proposal aims to support democracy over communism and remove a painful symbol, the communist flag. In Vietnam, "free people that were defeated now live under communist rule," he said.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Washington reacted angrily to House Bill 2829, demanding that it be killed in the General Assembly. Legislators said the State Department contacted them almost immediately after the vote to express concern about constitutional issues and fear that the action could cause an international rift.

Acknowledging those concerns, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he planned to have the bill referred back to committee to kill it.

"If [Del. Hull] doesn't take care of it, I think someone else will," said Howell, who had voted for the proposal.

Hull vowed to press on. "Just because the State Department objects doesn't mean we won't go forward," he said.

As Virginia becomes increasingly diverse, many politicians have sought to address the interests of minority communities. Tagalog, Spanish and other languages have made their way into campaign speeches, and politicians have begun advertising in foreign-language newspapers.

Last year, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) declared that June 19, 2002, would be Vietnamese American Freedom Fighter Day and that the South Vietnamese flag, with its three red bars on a yellow background, is an "eternal symbol of hope and love of freedom." Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor hasn't taken a position on the House bill.

About 45,000 Vietnamese residents live in the Washington region, including nearly 29,000 in Northern Virginia. The community has become one of the region's most noticeable, establishing restaurants, markets and other imprints across Northern Virginia, including many at the popular Eden Center in Falls Church, which Hull represents.

The new and old flags of Vietnam arouse passions. In 1999, thousands of Vietnamese refugees protested for 53 days outside a video store in California after the owner displayed the Vietnamese flag and a picture of former North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh.

Yesterday, Bach Ngoc Chien, the press attache{acute} at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, issued a statement saying, "We totally reject Bill 2829."

"According to international conventions and practices, the golden star and red flag, the sole and official flag symbolizing the State of Vietnam, must be hoisted on all occasions and in all places on the United States soil when there is a requirement of display of the national flag of Vietnam."

Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese American civic group in Falls Church, said ethnic Vietnamese parents and students "reject the red flag and gold star as a symbol of oppression and persecution." States have the sovereign right to determine which flags to display, he said.

Thang said schools sometimes displayed the Hanoi government's flag without realizing that it deeply offended thousands of refugees who fled the former South Vietnam after forces of the communist north captured Saigon in April 1975. "It's just like displaying the swastika in a community with a lot of people of Jewish background," said Thang, 45, who came to the United States in 1979 as a refugee after surviving a harrowing boat trip to Malaysia.

Virginia schools "should display a flag representing the overseas refugee community who fled the communists, and not a flag that we do not accept," said Jackie Bong-Wright, who arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1975 as a widow with three children.

Staff writers Michael D. Shear and Phuong Ly contributed to this report.