Speech or Spite: The Confederate Flag Controversy

The State of Texas has a lengthy history of an interest in secession. In fact, not long after the Confederacy was formed the state actually booted governor Sam Houston out of office in 1861 just to ensure that they could join the Confederacy. Of course that wasn’t the first time Texas was opposed to being part of the Union. Texas signed its first Declaration of Independence back in 1836 declaring itself the Republic of Texas. Fast forward to 2015 and the United States Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on March 23 regarding Confederate flag controversy, specifically the legality of the flag. This time the argument before the court is whether it is acceptable for the government of Texas to issue license plates with the Confederate flag imprinted on them. April 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the first time the country’s highest court will determine this issue.

The History of the Confederate Flag

It is difficult to find residents of the United States’ southern states who don’t have some emotional reaction to the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag as we know it today (the red rectangle with a blue X filled in with stars) was never formally adopted as the flag of the Confederacy. Despite popular belief it was never officially even recognized as the national flag. It gained popularity after General Lee adopted it as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Still, symbolically it has been accepted as a representation of the Confederate States of America. Some of this is due to its use as a protest of integration both by the University of Mississippi and the Ku Klux Klan. It is perhaps, for this reason, that there is present Confederate flag controversy.

The Debate Over Confederate Flag Controversy

The simplest explanation for the debate is that to some the flag represents sovereignty and tradition and for others it is nothing more than a symbol of slavery and racism. Although neither of these reactions is grounded on solid historical fact, the emotions invoked by the symbol are no less justified than if they were. After all, there can be little debate that both sides have evidence for their claim. When it comes to a legal debate however, the question of the flag’s display becomes more formal and less intriguing. The issue being heard by the Supreme Court is whether this flag, on a state issued license plate, is an expression of free speech. The reason for this is that the state must maintain a neutral viewpoint when denying certain groups to promote their message on government property but allowing others to. In federal court the judges agreed with the attorneys for the State of Texas. On appeal the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans determined that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans were right and overturned the federal court. Texas appealed and the issue is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

At Brownstone Law we are fascinated by this historic debate and are interested to witness the decision of the court, including when it comes to Confederate flag controversy.

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