The Confederate flag waves over the South Carolina Statehouse. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Columnist Joe Davidson covers federal government issues in the Federal Insider, formerly the Federal Diary. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with the Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s historic, albeit belated, call to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds in South Carolina hit some of the right notes.

But not all of them.

Many in her state, Haley said, consider the flag a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.” What she and many others have left out was the flag’s direct connection to treason.

[Here is the transcript of Haley’s speech]

Although the Confederates were not tried and convicted of that crime, treason certainly describes their behavior. The Constitution says that “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them.” That is exactly what the Confederates did. They were U.S. citizens who took up arms against their government. These were individuals who killed American soldiers. They sought to destroy the United States, as it stood, through violence.

Haley said others in South Carolina consider the emblem part “of history, of heritage and of ancestry.” That is a history and a heritage flowing from ancestors who took up arms against this nation — a country today’s Confederate supporters say they love. Apparently they see no conflict in both loving their nation and honoring people who sought to destroy it.

[Once politically sacrosanct, Confederate flag moves toward an end]

Much of the conversation about the flag and other Confederate symbols correctly focuses on the deep insult to black Americans. That “brutally oppressive past” Haley mentioned is one of slavery, lynching and segregation driven by white supremacy. But black people are not alone in having good reason to demand an end to all publicly funded confederate idolatry, like the monument to Confederate soldiers in Alexandria, Jefferson Davis Highway and many other public facilities in numerous states.

There is another group that has a right to be mightily offended — veterans.

Members of the U.S. military were the target of Confederate attacks. Veterans’ service organizations, who work so hard to protect  survivors of recent wars, have good reason to condemn those who killed the soldiers who fought to protect the United States government during the Civil War.

Haley’s speech kicked off a range of cascading actions that hopefully will lead to the removal of all public Confederate symbols, save those in museums, where they belong.

[Alabama removes Confederate flags as backlash spreads from Charleston slayings]

Treason is a crime, but venerating those who have taken treasonous actions is not. This being the United States, individuals have the right to honor traitors. While this is repugnant and an insult to African Americans and all who are patriots, it is not illegal.

As Haley said, “We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.

“But the statehouse is different. And the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”

The right way is to stop honoring traitors.