Supreme Court To Decide If State Can Deny License Plate With Confederate Flag Design

The Supreme Court is set to decide if the state can deny a license plate with the Confederate flag design because it is "offensive."

Texas Confederate License Plate

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of Texas arising out of the state’s refusal to issue a specialty license plate bearing a representation of the Confederate Battle Flag and the argument that this refusal was the repression of speech based on content in violation of the First Amendment:

The case about license plates arose from Texas’s refusal to issue a specialty plate bearing a Confederate battle flag. The state allows many kinds of plates, including ones proposed by nonprofit groups. The state’s Motor Vehicles Board rejected this one, proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The board said it had based its decision on public comments from people who “associate the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans,ruled against the state, saying it had violated the First Amendment.

There are two basic issues in the case, Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, No. 14-144. One is whether statements on specialty license plates are the government’s speech or that of the car’s owner. If they are the government’s speech, the First Amendment largely drops out of the analysis, as the government is free to say what it likes.

The Supreme Court made that clear in 2009 in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, ruling that a Utah city did not have to allow a minor religion to erect a monument to its Seven Aphorisms near a Ten Commandments monument in a public park.

The court acknowledged that the government could not discriminate among speakers in the park and among people handing out leaflets there. But permanent monuments, whether donated by private groups or commissioned by the government, are government speech, the court said.

Most federal appeals courts, like the Fifth Circuit, have ruled that specialty license plates are different, conveying the positions of the drivers involved rather than that of the government. The appeals court in Chicago, the Seventh Circuit, for instance, ruled that specialty plates are “mobile billboards” for “organizations and like-minded vehicle owners.”

The second question was whether Texas had engaged in impermissible discrimination based on the speaker’s viewpoint. Texas argued that it should be allowed to reject particular license plate designs as long as it does not allow ones expressing any point of view, pro or con, on the topic at issue, here the confederacy. The Seventh Circuit allowed Illinois to turn down “Choose Life” plates on this ground, saying the state had declined to allow any abortion-related designs.

The Fifth Circuit noted that Texas had approved plates from several veterans’ groups but rejected this one based on “the view that the Confederate flag is an inflammatory symbol of hate and oppression.” The court said that amounted to viewpoint discrimination.

The last time the Supreme Court considered what the First Amendment has to say about license plates was in 1977 in Wooley v. Maynard, when it ruled that New Hampshire could not force George Maynard to drive around with plates bearing the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.” Mr. Maynard, a Jehovah’s Witness, said he preferred life, “even if it meant living in bondage.”

Lyle Denniston has more details about the legal issues in the case:

The key issue in the license plate case (Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans) is whether the messages that are displayed on specialty tags are a form of government speech, so that officials can decide which to allow or to forbid.  If, however, they represent the views of the car or truck owner, then the government’s power to veto a message is more tightly restricted.

In a 1977 ruling, in Wooley v. Maynard, the Court treated a license plate message as a form of private speech displayed on private property, but it did not rule explicitly whether this was government speech or private speech more generally.  In the 2009 decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the Court decided that a government entity has a right to speak for itself, and thus has the authority to refuse to accept a symbolic monument for display in a public park.

The Court was asked in the Texas case, and in a separate North Carolina case that is now apparently being kept on hold, to clarify a split among federal appeals courts on whether vanity plate messages are to be treated as government or private expressions.  In the Texas case, a group that seeks to preserve the memory and reputation of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy sought state approval for a plate design that included the Confederate battle flag.

Ultimately, after a series of conflicting votes, a state agency turned down that design, saying that many people regard the rebels’ flag as associated with hatred toward groups.   The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, and ultimately won a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, declaring that specialty plate messages are a form of private speech, and that the state agency had engaged in forbidden viewpoint discrimination.

The Supreme Court will now review the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

On the surface, it might seem easy to dismiss the First Amendment arguments made in a case like this. After all, license plates are ultimately something created by the states as a means of identifying vehicles properly once they are registered for use on state-administered highways. For many years, the content of those plates, or the message conveyed by them, which usually consisted of the state’s motto, or nickname, or the some tourism-related slogan was largely beyond the control of the driver. To the extent that the Supreme Court has ever ruled that there was a First Amendment issue involved with respect to a license plate, that ruling came in 1977 in the case Wooley v. Maynard. As noted above, in that case, the Court held in a 6-3 ruling that Maynard, a Jehovah’s Witness, could not Constitutionally require anyone to display a message on their license plate if they had a religious objection to the message. That seems like a pretty straight-forward result; as a general rule, the state cannot force anyone to advocate a point of view that they object to and if someone has a religious objection to the message on a license plate they are forced to use then some accommodation has to be made for that objection. That’s different, though, from the question of whether or not the state has any authority to regulate the message that might be conveyed on a vanity or specialty licence plate.

When the Supreme Court last ruled on anything dealing with license plates, of course, these issues did not really exist. It’s only been in the past twenty years or so, in no small part to help raise additional sources of revenue, that states have allowed both vanity plates with special messages instead of the standard numbers and letters or specialty plates devoted to colleges and universities, various causes, veterans groups, and the like. Ever since that phenomenon began, there have often been conflicts between what people wanted on their license plates and what motor vehicle authorities have been willing to permit — messages deemed racist or obscene have often been denied on vanity plates, for example — and various political groups have often lobbied hard to be included in the specialty license plate program, sometimes because the charitable organization tied to a particular cause has received some portion of the proceeds from the sale of the plates. The rules about how a specialty plate is approved vary from state to state, though. In some states they must be approved by the state legislature. In others the relevant motor vehicle authority can authorize them, either on its own by following certain procedures, or after application by private organizations provided that the people who want such a support have demonstrated a sufficient level of demand for the requested plate. This is apparently the procedure in Texas and, although the Texas branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans submitted an application to the proper agency, the agency ultimately denied the request in large part due to the fact that it had received a large number of complaints about the proposed plate from members of the public who said that they considered the idea of such a plate offensive.

There are essentially two issues involved in this case. The first is whether a specialty license plate is “government speech,” in which case the state would largely be free to do whatever it wanted, or whether it should be considered private speech, in which case a court would be required to rule on whether or not the denial of a specific plate based on its content is a violation of the First Amendment. In its ruling on the first issue, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the specialty plate is a matter of private speech:

Considering the emphasis on context and the public’s perception of the speaker’s identity in Summum, we think the proper inquiry here is “whether a reasonable and fully informed observer would understand the expression to be government speech, as distinct from private speech the government chooses to oblige.” Id. at 487 (Souter, J., concurring); see also Roach v. Stouffer, 560 F.3d 860, 867 (8th Cir. 2009) (“Our analysis boils down to one key question: whether, under all the circumstances, a reasonable and fully informed observer would consider the speaker to be the government or a private party.”); Choose Life Ill., Inc. v. White, 547 F.3d 853, 863 (7th Cir. 2008) (identifying government speech by asking “[u]nder all the circumstances, would a reasonable person consider the speaker to be the government or a private party”).

Here, the differences between permanent monuments in public parks and specialty license plates on the back of personal vehicles convince us that a reasonable observer would understand that the specialty license plates are private speech. Unlike their treatment of permanent monuments, states have not traditionally used license plates to convey a particular message to the public. Rather, license plates have primarily been a means of identifying vehicles. See Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 716 (1977) (explaining that one of the reasons the state had asserted an interest in including its motto on state license plates was to “facilitate[] the identification of passenger vehicles”); Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§ 504.001-504.948 (effecting a vehicle registration scheme); see also id. § 504.005 (mandating that each license plate have a ”unique identifier”). License plates also do not have the permanent character of monuments in public parks. See Summum, 555 U.S. at 464, 480 (contrasting permanent monuments with “temporary displays” and “transitory expressive acts”). An individual may choose a new specialty license plate every year simply by paying a fee, see Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 504.008, and an individual registers for a new license plate any time he or she moves to a new state.

Further, while public parks have traditionally been “closely identified in the public mind with the government” and have “play[ed] an important role in defining the identity [of] a city,” the same cannot be said for license plates and the backs of cars. See Summum, 555 U.S. at 472. In Wooley, the Supreme Court held that New Hampshire could not force its citizens (the plaintiffs were Jehovah’s Witnesses) to bear the “Live Free or Die” motto on standard issue license plates because it would be a violation of their First Amendment rights. 430 U.S. at 717. The Court never discussed whether the plates were government or private speech. Instead, it presumed that the license plates were private speech, engaged in a First Amendment analysis, and explicitly stated that because a car was “private property,” the government could not force individuals to bear a license plate with New Hampshire’s motto. Id. at 713. Thus, the “Supreme Court has indicated that license plates, even when owned by the government, implicate private speech interests because of the connection of any message on the plate to the driver or owner of the vehicle.”  Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. ex rel. Griffin v. Comm’r of Va. Dep’t of Motor Vehicles, 288 F.3d 610, 621 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Wooley, 430 U.S. at 717).

Having determined that specialty plates are private speech, the next question is whether the denial of the SCV’s application was permissible, or whether it was a form of viewpoint discrimination and therefore unconstitutional. To a large degree, though, that question was answered the minute the Court made the government v. private speech determination:

We agree with Texas SCV and hold that the Board engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination and violated Texas SCV’s rights under the First Amendment. In explaining its denial of Texas SCV’s application, the Board stated it denied the plate, “specifically the confederate flag portion of the design, because public comments have shown that many members of the general public find the design offensive.” By rejecting the plate because it was offensive, the Board discriminated against Texas SCV’s view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence, and Southern heritage. The Board’s decision implicitly dismissed that perspective and instead credited the view that the Confederate flag is an inflammatory symbol of hate and oppression. Texas’s specialty license plate program features a number of plates that honor veterans, including Korea Veterans, Vietnam Veterans, Woman Veterans, Buffalo Soldiers, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and World War II Veterans. Given Texas’s history of approving veterans plates and the reasons the Board offered for rejecting Texas SCV’s plate, it appears that the only reason the Board rejected the plate is the viewpoint it represents. We understand that some members of the public find the Confederate flag offensive. But that fact does not justify the Board’s decision; this is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect against. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. F.C.C., 512 U.S. 622, 641 (1994) (“Government action that stifles speech on account of its message . . . pose[s] the inherent risk that the Government seeks not to advance a legitimate regulatory goal, but to suppress unpopular ideas or information or manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”). As the Supreme Court has already recognized, “any suggestion that the Government’s interest in suppressing speech becomes more weighty as popular opposition to that speech grows is foreign to the First Amendment.” See United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310,  318 (1990). “[T]he fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection.” Simon & Schuster Inc. v. Members of N.Y. State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 108 (1991) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

(…)

Further, the Board’s “might be offensive to any member of the public” standard lacks specific limiting standards, which gives the state “unbridled discretion” that permits viewpoint discrimination. Prime Media, Inc. v. City of Brentwood, 485 F.3d 343, 351 (6th Cir. 2007). Indeed, the most recent license plate case to be decided by a federal court, Matwyuk v. Johnson, held just this. Matwyuk involved Michigan’s vanity plate program, which did not allow any license plate configurations “that might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency.” Matwyuk, 2014 WL 2160448, at *1. The Matwyuk court held that this “offensive” standard “impermissibly permits the . . . State to deny a license plate application based on viewpoint because the statute lacks objective criteria, and thus confers unbounded discretion on the-decisionmaker.” Id. at *10 (citing Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147, 150-51 (1969) (noting “the many decisions of this Court over the last 30 years, holding that a law subjecting the exercise of First Amendment freedoms to the prior restraint of a license without narrow, objective, and definite standards to guide the licensing authority, is unconstitutional”)).

(…)

The government may not “selectively . . . shield the public from some kinds of speech on the ground that they are more offensive than others.” See Erzonznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 209, 209 (1975). That is precisely what the Board did, however, when it rejected Texas SCV’s plate. Accordingly, we hold that the Board impermissibly discriminated against Texas SCV’s viewpoint when it denied the specialty license plate.

As much as I dislike the Confederate flag and detest what the present day fetish for Confederate revanchism stands for, I think the Fifth Circuit got it right. First of all, the Court was correct to find that, per Wooley, a license plate is in an important sense a form of private speech due to the manner in which it is something that an automobile owner is required to have on their car and, to the extent that it carries a message, endorse at least implicitly. That is why the Supreme Court was correct to rule that Wooley cannot be compelled to display a message that he religiously objects to on his motor vehicle notwithstanding the fact that it is part of a state motto included on every other plate issued by the state. Second, if the state has established a process that allows groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans to apply for a specialty plate, and if the group in question can meet all of the criteria that have been set in order to establish that there would be a sufficient market for the plate they request to justify the expense of creating it in the first place, then it cannot deny that application solely based on the content of the speech contained on the plate, which is exactly what a denied based on “offensiveness” constitutes. This seems like a fairly straight forward First Amendment issue requiring little further analysis

The SCOTUSBlog information page for the case, which will likely be argued at some point in the spring, can be found here. Additionally, I’ve embedded the Fifth Circuit’s opinion below for those interested:

Texas Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Et Al v. Vandergriff Et Al by Doug Mataconis

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    If they are going to take this issue to the supreme court shouldn’t the design include the actual confederate flag? If it’s really “history not hate” then they should damn well get the history right.

  2. ernieyeball says:

    Let the Sons (of B!tches) have their Insurrectionist rag.
    I’d much rather see who they are up front than hiding behind a white, pointy headed robe.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    They already deny things they find offensive. Try getting a plate that says FVCK YOU.
    They are not deciding whether to deny offensive things.
    They are deciding if supporting the Confederacy, an entity whose sole reason for being was to preserve the institution of slavery, is offensive.
    Frankly…that we have to have these discussions 150 + years later is offensive.

  4. Pinky says:

    I’m surprised at this. It never would have occurred to me that license plates were anything other than government speech.

    On an unrelated note, I associate vanity plates (as opposed to specialty plates) with jerks.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    I say let them display the Confederate Flag – I’d rather know exactly who is proud to display that flag, than not know.

    Also, I know it’s stating the obvious but, this yet another salient example of just how “post-racial” we’ve become, right? The confederate flag is all about State’s Rights, and honoring those who fought to leave the Union, and well, just about anything but race.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Maybe we could combine the two? Allow the plate, but anyone who wants to sneak up after you have it on your car and cover it with indelible ink is allowed off scott-free as well?

  7. stonetools says:

    You know, they can have their accursed symbol. My problem is that most of the people who display the symbol think its an ideal to aspire to and a program to be enacted.

  8. SKI says:

    I think the 5th Cir. got the underlying question wrong. License Plates are issued (and sold) by the State. There is an approval process. Not every design gets approval. Accordingly, they are inherently State Speech.

  9. Gustopher says:

    On the one hand, I really want to be able to identify the NeoConfederates from a distance, but on the other hand I don’t want them to be happy about anything ever. I think, in the end, the people who would get this license plate would otherwise get a bumper sticker, so they will be easy to identify anyway, and spite can dominate.

    Now we just need a legal argument to support that conclusion.

    It’s not just individual or state speech, it is both. Just as the state does not have the authority to make someone display speech they disagree with (the “Live Free Or Die” example), the individual should not have the authority to force the state to display speech they disagree with.

    Does the state allow other license plates with foreign flags on them? For instance, the Nazi flag?

  10. Pinky says:

    @Gustopher:

    Now we just need a legal argument to support that conclusion.

    I hope that was said with tongue in cheek.

  11. Electroman says:

    @Rick DeMent: The history, as popularly seen today, is that the image on the plate is the Confederate Flag. The Confederacy had several flags; this is not one of them – it’s the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. But very few really care about that – in this context, I certainly don’t. Why should anyone?

  12. gVOR08 says:

    Do people understand that in this case ‘political correctness” is just a matter of refraining from a gratuitous insult to some of their neighbors? Rhetorical question. It’s their point in the exercise. And they feel it’s a stronger message if they can make the state accessory.

  13. Vast Variety says:

    I’ve always considered license plates to be government speech and that includes specialty plates for Schools, branches of the military, and other organizations. The only Private speech part of the equation is picking which of the government sponsored plates I want on my car now that I have a choice.

    Fortunately I’m not an idiot and just stick with the basic Iowa license plate.

    Also, if some moron can have a confederate plate can I have one with a flag of the Third Reich?

  14. Rick DeMent says:

    @Electroman:

    The history, as popularly seen today, is that the image on the plate is the Confederate Flag. The Confederacy had several flags; this is not one of them – it’s the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. But very few really care about that – in this context, I certainly don’t. Why should anyone?

    Well because as I said, groups like the sons of the Confederacy like to talk about “history not hate”. While you are correct that there where a number of banners that the confederates used there was only one design that was the “stars and Bars” and the one on the plate is not it, which leads me to conclude that the “history” isn’t really all that important if they can’t even get that one major fact correct.

    More importantly id the image on the place was the actual “Starts and Bars” I think that there would be less controversy given the fact that the KKK an other white supremacy used the Confederate battle flag on purpose as the emblem of their terrorist regime not the stars and bars. To prove this point I asked a question to a SotC group in Georgia when i lived there during their flag flap a few years back. I asked specifically why not dump the battle flag and adopt a design based on the stars and bars (which they ended up doing. And frankly the answer I got from them was a lot of hemming and hawwing and it became abundantly clear to to me that the reason was because the battle jack was the design that pissed off the black people and that what the intention when it was adopted originally.

    The battle jack has become a very provocative symbol of the segregationist south and had little to do with “history”. If you don’t care that fine, even if a lot of people don’t care that’s fine too, but for a lot of people who had to live though the segregation battles of the late 40’s thought the civil rights era the battle flag became, right or wrong, became an in your face symbol of suppression that had nothing to do with history. That’s why.

  15. edmondo says:

    Canada looks more and more attractive every day.

  16. The Hitchhiker's Travel Guide says:

    the Sons of Confederate Veterans ?

    Hmmm…

    “A bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.”

  17. ernieyeball says:

    @Gustopher:.. but on the other hand I don’t want them to be happy about anything ever.

    That’s pretty mean Gus. I don’t think I would want to emulate them like that.
    On the other hand I guess I have revealed my animosity above. (Son of a b!tch.)
    Maybe we should all be forced at gunpoint to watch Sesame Street…

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    The battle jack has become a very provocative symbol of the segregationist south and had little to do with “history”. If you don’t care that fine, even if a lot of people don’t care that’s fine too, but for a lot of people who had to live though the segregation battles of the late 40’s thought the civil rights era the battle flag became, right or wrong, became an in your face symbol of suppression that had nothing to do with history.

    When they say that it is about history, they don’t mean that it is about the 1860s as much as they mean it is about the 1960s. They just want to piss off black people.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @ernieyeball: As I approach middle age, I find I am less and less tolerant of people being smug jackasses. It’s the smugness that bothers me (we cause enough misery to others in our lives that there’s no reason to go out of our way to do it, and to do so gleefully…)

    On the other hand, I kind of want to find the African-Americans who had a confederate soldier somewhere in their family tree a hundred and fifty years ago, and get them all signed up as Sons Of Confederate Veterans and see if we can’t just destroy the organization’s purpose (glorifying the racist south). So, I’m a bit of a smug jackass myself.

  20. Electroman says:

    @Rick DeMent: I largely agree with your answer, which is well-though-out and well-written. I upvoted it.

    The pedantic @sshole in me forces me to point out that the “Stars and Bars” you refer to wasn’t the only Confederate Flag, either – in their short existence, the CSA went through three flags, that being the first. However, as you pointed out, it *was* an actual CSA flag.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    Seriously…these people seceded and fought against the US.
    Should we have a Sons of Redcoat Soldiers plate?
    Or Sons of Loyalists?
    Or Sons of Kamikazes?
    Or Sons of…well you get the point.
    Let’s just honor their secession after-the-fact. Taken together they are just a drain on the country anyway. Of course without the blue states to support them they’ll be screwed. But do I care? And then they can have all the racist license plates they want.

  22. Franklin says:

    I understand the states’ desire to make money selling vanity and special plates, but maybe the simple answer is to just stop doing that. Then there wouldn’t have to be this constant evaluation of what random letters and numbers form something offensive. The license plate is there for identification, nothing more. If you want to demonstrate what kind of idiot you are, just use bumper stickers.

  23. ernieyeball says:

    Chris Rock and the Confederate Battle Flag

    SFW (except in South Carolina)

    https://historicstruggle.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/chris-rock-and-the-confederate-battle-flag/

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    As a friend of mine once put it, the only Confederate flag that really counted in the end was a white tattered flag on the end of a stick, feebly waving that it had had enough and didn’t want to fight the Yankees no more….

  25. Tyrell says:

    I looked at the SCV website and read or saw nothing offensive, racist, or hateful. There was no derogatory comments about the Union army or Union leadership. It is very similar to the DAV organization.
    There are a ton of people around here who have an avid interest in the Civil War as do people in the northern states. Often these historical groups do a good public service by sponsoring reenactment days where they dress, encamp, and reenact battles. They also visit schools and make presentations. They have increased interest in history. They are active in preserving historical sites such as battlefields, homes, structures, and encampment sites.I have known members of some veterans groups. They do not allow any sort of racist talk or activity.
    They have worked with local colleges in arranging archaeological excavations people trace their geneology. They also have reunions with Union soldier groups, and even former slave descendants. There has been no anymosity or hard feelings about the war. Everyone gets along fine.
    Many towns in our state have Confederate Memorials which list the Confederate veterans of the area who were killed in action. I have never heard anyone complaining about being offended. As a child my relatives and neighbors had known actual Civil War veterans who told them stories about the war and they recounted them to us. My friends and I hung on every word . Our excitenment reached a fever pitch ! We had a 7th grade history teacher – Civil War buff. Imagine our excitement the day he came to school dressed in full uniform and had authentic swords and two rifles !! I don’t guess he could do that in school today. We learned every battle, every general, north and south. No wonder the Civil War books were always checked out ! I visited every battlefield that I could get to.We admired Generals Lee, Grant, Sherman, Jackson, Stuart, McClellan, Beauregard, and Custer, did not matter what army.

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    From their website:

    The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.

    Seriously?
    Sorry…I find lying offensive.
    The Civil War was about preserving slavery…nothing more. And yet, strangely, slavery is not even mentioned on the Homepage of that Website.

    so that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.

    Clearly their real wish is to do no less than revise history…in other words…to lie about it.

  27. Rafer Janders says:

    There was no derogatory comments about the Union army or Union leadership.

    This is a detail that people seem not to get, but the “Union” army was the American Army. The Confederates were at war with the Army and Navy of the United States of America.

  28. ernieyeball says:

    @Tyrell:..There has been no anymosity or hard feelings about the war. Everyone gets along fine.

    Just what kind of drugs are you on?

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The Civil War was about preserving slavery…nothing more.

    True. And anyone who doesn’t believe it should read their various Declarations of Secession. But I hope you haven’t started something. In a blog comment thread that can be as bad as saying “evolution”.

  30. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Ah yes, the Lost cause myth.

    You might be surprised to know that this was standard teaching about the Civil War right into the 1960s. The Civil War was about states’ rights, freedom, and the valor of Southern men resisting “Northern Agression.” Google ” Dunning School.”
    Indeed, two of the highest grossing movies of all time explicitly taught this “Lost Cause” view of history (“Birth of Nation” and “Gone With the Wind.” )

    I would be OK about having people indulge in their myths and fairy tales if they weren’t historically and even currently busy trying to re-establish the Confederate ideal of white supremacy and black subjugation. Generally, you don’t find excessive celebration of the mythology without the political activity-and frankly, it makes sense. If the Confederate cause was glorious, then why shouldn’t we revive the society and politics that gave rise to the glorious cause?

  31. James Pearce says:

    @C. Clavin:

    They already deny things they find offensive. Try getting a plate that says FVCK YOU.

    Excellent point, bud. My question is why does no one ever sue to get “FVCK YOU” license plates? It’s always this ideological crap…

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @James Pearce:
    Because they think they have people fooled. (Obviously in some cases they do.)
    ” oh we’re not racist…we’re just celebrating the brave people who fought (to preserve slavery) and died (against the United States).”

  33. Gustopher says:

    @Tyrell:

    Often these historical groups do a good public service by sponsoring reenactment days where they dress, encamp, and reenact battles.

    And, my dream is to have the entire reenactment southern army be filled with black folks. Direct descendants of the actual soldiers who fought for the south, but the darker branch of the family tree.

    Also, how come no one does reenactments of the great labor fights? There is no Sons Of The Pinkertons, celebrating the history of ruthless private armies breaking strikes with force. They don’t advocate the atrocities, they are just interested in history?

  34. ernieyeball says:

    One of my all time faves. I was living in The City in 1974. Out the Muni Bus window I saw a California tag on some old beater parked down hill with it’s front wheels curbed and rear end in plain view:

    FUK NXN

  35. @Gustopher:

    In a hundred years, will there be Afghanistan reenactments?

    The Taliban reenactors (who all just people wearing normal street clothes) get a three hour head start, and then the US reenactors have to go around trying to figure who is one of their Taliban reenactors and who is just random members of the public who happened to be in the area that day.

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: No, it was definitely “liberty and freedom.” The liberty and freedom for people to own slaves, that is….

  37. An Interested Party says:

    The fact that we have so many people who actually think that a bunch of racist traitors were “heroes” fighting for a “just” cause shows how little progress we’ve actually made in 150 years…

  38. Grewgills says:

    The Supreme Court made that clear in 2009 in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, ruling that a Utah city did not have to allow a minor religion to erect a monument to its Seven Aphorisms near a Ten Commandments monument in a public park.
    The court acknowledged that the government could not discriminate among speakers in the park and among people handing out leaflets there. But permanent monuments, whether donated by private groups or commissioned by the government, are government speech, the court said.

    If the permanent monument is government speech and the government only allows a Judeo-Christian monument in the park isn’t that government endorsement of a particular religion? Shouldn’t that be prohibited?

  39. Pinky says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The US tradition of Civil War reenactment is fairly unusual in that both victors and the defeated participate, and reenactments started very soon after the war. Typically, you don’t want to get veterans back into their old uniforms and facing off across a field.

  40. Davebo says:

    The obvious answer is to grant a “Sons of Treasonous Traitors” license plate.

    Because dammit, they luv Merica now. Their forefathers just didn’t so much.

  41. bill says:

    well they did lose the war, what’s so offensive about it? will they ban the french/mexican flags next?!

  42. CB says:

    I understand attachment to heritage. But these guys should take a hint from the Germans and Cambodians.

  43. anjin-san says:

    @bill:

    well they did lose the war, what’s so offensive about it? will they ban the french/mexican flags next?!

    Ummm. A country closer to home has lost a war or two as well Bubba.

  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    Direct descendants of the actual soldiers who fought for the south, but the darker branch of the family tree.

    Sadly (in so many ways), many (most?) Confederate soldiers were from poorer, non-slave-owning families. They gave their lives to defend a “way of life” that had very little to offer them, and valued them not at all.

  45. Dave D says:

    @bill: So did the Nazis let’s celebrate their flag in the name of German Heritage. It’s history of the Aryan people, not hate of the enemies of the Nuremberg Laws. Let us celebrate those nazis, even though they lost the war. They may have had a point about heritage. (oh that works for the south’s embrace of slavery, but disintegrates for the same embrace of heritage when it comes to genocide of the jews.) Weird if only only those politically correct censors would let us celebrate heritage.

  46. JohnMcC says:

    @DrDaveT: Two little bits of stuff-I-grew-up-believing and which have proven to be true: “It’s a rich man’s ‘war’ but a poor man’s fight.” and “wars are fought by boys” – which to me means almost any young man less than 25 or so.

  47. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Interestingly, license plates are not sold. They remain the property of the issuing state in perpetuity. You pay a fee for the use of the tag as long as you meet certain mandated conditions for being eligible to do so, but you never obtain ownership of it. Once you fall outside of the mandated conditions, you are typically required to return it to the state.

    This seems silly. People are essentially suing the state in an effort to force the state to speak in a manner that the individual approves of.

  48. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    Correct. The only constitutionally permissible option in that scenario (IMO) is to order the removal of the existent religious icon(s).

  49. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:

    well they did lose the war, what’s so offensive about it?

    Well…nothing at all…except they were fighting to preserve slavery…and they were fighting against the United States. And honoring the Confederacy means honoring slavery and being proud of that era means being proud of when you seceded and went to war against these United States.
    Other than that…there is nothing offensive at all.

  50. bill says:

    @Dave D: that’s pretty extreme, but if you want to wave nazi flags …..
    @C. Clavin: it’s more of a novelty these days- nobody alive now has much to do with any of this stuff. heck, our founding fathers owned slaves back in the day- it was all the rage!
    @HarvardLaw92: that’s gotta be one of the most unenforced laws ever then, i have a nice collection as does my local bar- then there’s ebay!

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/COMPLETE-SET-OF-USA-LICENSE-PLATES-FROM-ALL-50-STATES-CRAFT-CONDITION-/251678758415?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3a9939160f

    they’ve sold 42 so far

  51. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:

    nobody alive now has much to do with any of this stuff.

    well…except for blacks…who still live in oppression every day. but otherwise…yeah…sure.

  52. KM says:

    @James Pearce

    My question is why does no one ever sue to get “FVCK YOU”

    If I had the time and money to waste….. That feels like a bucket list kind of thing. You know, one last challenge to the system you probably won’t win but you can go out fighting.

  53. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    well they did lose the war, what’s so offensive about it? will they ban the french/mexican flags next?!

    They lost? Really? Post Reconstruction nearly 100 years of segregation, plus they controlled Congress through committee seniority for years. Yeah, that was a crushing defeat.

    Again, as I said, let them have that (symbol of racism) flag on their car, it’s better to know who the supporters of the fight to let the South maintain slavery are, than not know.

  54. KM says:

    @Gustopher:

    Also, how come no one does reenactments of the great labor fights?

    The Battle for Blair Mountain. The supposed source of the name “red-neck”, a honorable term for a good, hard-working union coal miner. The government bombing citizens (one was brought into court as proof!), collaborating with private biz to put down poor people who just wanted basic rights and pay. A fight they are still finding hundreds of bullet cases from scattered across the mountainside.

    That’s history. I wanna see an reenactment of that. Maybe union will stop being a dirty word once people remember how our ancestors suffered and bleed for it…..

  55. ernieyeball says:

    @KM:..The supposed source of the name “red-neck”, a honorable term for a good, hard-working union coal miner.

    The story I heard about “red neck” was that it described the farmer toiling in the field all summer with the hot sun burning his neck till it was red.

  56. An Interested Party says:

    that’s pretty extreme…

    So is treating other human beings as property…

  57. An Interested Party says:

    …not to mention committing treason for that “right”…

  58. KM says:

    @ernieyeball:

    The story I heard about “red neck” was that it described the farmer toiling in the field all summer with the hot sun burning his neck till it was red.

    Correction to my prev post- the written source of the name as used to refer to Southern blue-collar. The miners, in order to identify themselves, wore red bandanas around their necks. Reporters named them the “Red Neck Army” in response and published about them in national newspapers (the NYT specifically). There are a couple of fascinating books and documentaries on this recently since mining companies want to destroy the site of the battle for strip mining. If there was ever a time for a reenactment, it’s now.

  59. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: well we know who keeps them in line, and they founded the kkk too. oh, i was by the lbj library over the weekend, they have the limo that jfk was riding in when he was killed……i just thought it ironic that he’s some sort of hero to the “desegregation” crowd, when all he did was line them up to be controlled by “whitey” all over again.

    @al-Ameda: hey, it was democrats who did all that and perpetuate it still. “enabling” isn’t working, lbj sure had “them” fooled didn’t he? 3 generations later and whats the verdict now?

  60. Fog says:

    All I want is a license plate with a Union battle flag because, being from Pennsylvania, shooting people who take up arms against the American Flag is my heritage.

  61. Liberal With Attitude says:

    @DrDaveT:

    But even the poorest white man in the South had a group of people one step below him on the social ladder, who had to step aside and tip their hat when he walked down the street.

    And yes, many, many people will kill and die to preserve that.

  62. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    Al-Ameda: They lost? Really? Post Reconstruction nearly 100 years of segregation, plus they controlled Congress through committee seniority for years. Yeah, that was a crushing defeat.

    So, where was I wrong?
    LBJ fooled no one, he, through difficult political maneuvering, got the Civil Rights Act passed, despite the opposition of Southern politicians of both parties. And LBJ was right – Southern Democrats started their migration to the Republican Party, and shortly thereafter Republicans started winning national elections based on appealing white resentment in general, and in the South for very sensible electoral reasons.

  63. An Interested Party says:

    …when all he did was line them up to be controlled by “whitey” all over again.

    “enabling” isn’t working, lbj sure had “them” fooled didn’t he? 3 generations later and whats the verdict now?

    Oh, I see…so you’re saying that black people are either stupid or lazy or both because they vote in overwhelming numbers for a political party that supposedly “controls” and “enables” them…I wonder what your supposed black girlfriend would think of that…