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Confederate flag ban could go to court
by Jason Collins
Oct 11, 2013 | 68 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
County leaders are in what they describe as a no-win situation following a ban on the flying the Confederate battle flag by those renting the Expo Center.

They cannot make everyone happy, and ultimately, it could end up in court despite the county attorney assuring them their actions were within legal bounds.

Nothing as of yet has been filed, although Judge David Silva said this was possible.

It is a position that is not unique to this county.

“We don’t know the specifics of this case, but people have a constitutional right to free speech, even offensive or racist speech. In our view, the best answer to offensive speech is not government restriction, but more speech,” said Tom Hargis, director of communications, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

During their Sept. 23 court meeting, when the ban occurred, commissioners were told that the order was legal.

Mike Knight, county attorney, said, “That is fine if the court wants that in the contract. You simply need to vote on that issue....”

The ban passed three to two. Silva along with Commissioners Carlos Salazar and Eloy Rodriguez voted in favor of the ban.

Commissioners Dennis DeWitt and Ken Haggard voted against it.

This comes up now because in only a few weeks, residents will gather for Western Week — which includes a barbecue cook-off.

Rodriguez said that he received a call after last year’s celebration that one of the competitors was flying the Confederate flag. That group was also flying at least four other flags, including the U.S. and Texas flags.

“The flying of the Confederate battle flag or similar flags, including the Texas Confederate flag, has no place in our society,” Rodriguez said during that meeting.

“The flag certainly has no place in Bee County.”

Silva said that he knows this issue is far from over.

He said it could even go to court — if someone files suit against the county over the issue.

In July, the Associated Press reported that Lexington’s ban on the flying of the Confederate flag on city light poles does not violate a heritage group’s right of free speech, a federal appeals court ruled.

“The Sons of Confederate Veterans had challenged the ordinance, saying it violated its constitutional rights and violated a 20-year-old court order when it enacted the ordinance in September 2011,” AP reported.

The appeals court panel said that, while the First Amendment guarantees free speech in a public forum, it “does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government.”

Last year, Hays High School board members issued a ban on the flag anywhere on district property.

The board previously removed the flag from the “home of the Mighty Rebels” 12 years prior.

The school’s superintendent, Jeremy Lyon, told reporters, “You can debate it endlessly as to what the meaning of the Confederate flag is. I do have a great respect for history, but the reality is that it’s a racially insensitive symbol.”

Also in 2012, Ben Jones, one of the stars of the hit television show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” began waging a war of words with NASCAR after they banned the General Lee from Phoenix International Raceway because the car’s rooftop Confederate flag.

“It’s political correctness run amuck, and I’m outraged,” Jones told Fox News.

This past Saturday, hundreds gathered along I-95, just south of Richmond, for the raising of the Stars and Bars.

The Virginia Flaggers erected the 10-by-15-foot flag atop a 50-foot flagpole.

The group says the goal is to “remind drivers of our honorable Confederate history and heritage.”

Knight said that Bee County’s policy was in line with what is permissible.

“We do control the use of that property subject to the other laws of the land,” he said.

Maintaining a balance between free speech and fair use is not always easy.

“This court, in its discretion, sits to balance those,” he said.

Silva said that he recognizes the historical significance of the flag.

“The Confederate flag is part of who we are,” he said. However, its use by hate groups has altered its meaning for so many that allowing it to be displayed would not be appropriate.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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