Confederate Group Fights for Right to Place Confederate Flags on License Plates
On May 10, 2011 At 9:22 am
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The group, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), is embroiled in a fight to place the Confederate license plate in three states–Florida, Kentucky and Texas. Jay Barringer, Commander of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) has argued in support of their action that, "The plate promotes a positive image of the Confederate States of America. The Confederate soldier, he takes a beating nowadays. We are trying to divest ourselves of the negative associations."
Ben Sewell, executive director of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says that the specialty plates have been issued in nine other southern states: Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and that in the past they had won all court cases to deny them the right to use the Confederate specialty plates.
Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi has said that the state will not oppose the proposal to honor an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, with a state-issued plate. The proposal is controversial and seen by blacks as an affront because Forrest was the Ku Klux Klan's first Grand Wizard who was involved in the massacre of black union troops at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in 1864.
The NAACP has opposed proposals for the state issued specialty plates. According to Hilary Shelton, NAACP Senior vice president for advocacy and policy and director of Washington bureau, the NAACP is of the view that the Confederate symbol is a hurtful and offensive symbol which should not be allowed on state-issued license plates. A Facebook group opposing the proposal which calls itself "Mississippians Against The Commemoration of Grand Wizard Nathan Forrest," has managed to chalk up more than 2 400 likes in its favor.
David Hudson Jr., an attorney at the First Amendment Center in Nashville, explains that the distinction which determines whether the principle of the First Amendment applies in the case of a specialty plate is whether the plate can be categorized as private or government speech. Yet, even this principle is very controversial in its application. A federal judge had ruled in favor of the SCV, on March 30, that the Florida specialty plates program is unconstitutional because it gives "unfettered discretion to engage in viewpoint discrimination." A spokesman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety, however, argued that the court ruling did not compel the state to issue the plates. The SCV has said it might go back to court on the same matter.