Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Furl the Confederate Battle Flag - the Message of Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans

The public display of the confederate battle flag on public property has a public meaning. It is time to end the use of the confederate battle flag as a public symbol.

On the morning after the Charleston Emanuel A.M.E. Church massacre the Supreme Court in Walker v. Texas Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans   held that Texas speaks when it allows a message on a license plate.  And it therefore can pick and choose what is said on them.  Surprisingly Texas did not allow the Confederate battle flag to be portrayed on the vanity plates sought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The lineup was unusual: Justice Clarence Thomas joined the liberals while the other conservatives joined Samuel Alito in dissent. They argued that the more than 350 varieties of vanity plates in Texas, issued for purchase, are not likely to be understood as expressing the view of the State.  Rather the plates are seen as expressions of the vehicle owners.   Basically - it's a money-maker for the State and that settles it.  Thus picking and choosing among acceptable messages impinges the rights of free speech of those who buy the vanity plates.

The dissenters view is plausible.  The degree of control Texas has exercised is minimal.  But sometimes the narrow view is the wrong view.  So it is here.  One may choose to remember ancestors who fought for an unjust cause.  But the
public display of the confederate flag on public property has a public meaning.

The Confederacy was many things but its overwhelming historical importance is that it was a seditious rebellion whose principal object was to preserve chattel slavery.  The modern resurgence of the stars and bars battle flag was contemporaneous with  massive resistance to public school integration, and to the civil rights movement.  Its public meaning is inextricably linked to slavery and the racial segregation that followed and frustrated the implementation of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

The Walker opinion, fortuitously, could not have been more timely.
It is time to end the use of the confederate battle flag as a public symbol.

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