Its been almost four years since the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, in hopes of making a bit more scratch, rolled out a line of customizable license plates. Drivers can now select from a large buffet of completely legal plate designs celebrating Dr Pepper, Jesus, the late Dale Earnhardt and restrictions on abortion rights. You can even adorn your bumper with a University of Oklahoma license plate, which is downright unnatural.
Conspicuously absent from the menu of offerings is the Confederate flag, which is by design. The DMV rebuffed an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to introduce such a plate back in 2011 on the grounds that it might offend some members of the public.
The Confederates could not sit idly by while their honor was once again besmirched and so, true to form, they rebelled. They stayed in the union this time but filed a strongly worded federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit was based on the argument that license plates are a form of speech and that the DMV's action stifled the sons' ability to freely exercise that right. Apparently seeking to bolster its case, the group points out that, on the same day the rebel flag was rejected, the DMV approved a plate honoring the Buffalo Soldiers which "is offensive to Native Americans because the all-black cavalry helped fight [them] in the Indian Wars from 1867-1888" and that Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and other Southern states already offer Confederate license plates.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is not impressed. Courthouse News brings us the scoop that he has sided with the state of Texas.
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Sparks writes that the plates aren't and weren't intended to be a public forum, which means the government has a right to exclude license plate designs it deems offensive. A federal appeals court came to the same conclusion when it ruled case in which the Ku Klux Klan was excluded from Texas' Adopt-a-Highway program.
That's not to say that the SCV is wrong when it argues that the flag is a symbol of the group's mission, which is "to defend the Confederate soldier's good name, be the guardian of his history, perpetuate the principles that he defended, and see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations."
It's just that, well, some folks don't see things that way. "[T]o others it is a symbol of an unconstitutional rebellion aimed at keeping African-Americans in a state of slavery by destroying the Union with the 'states' right' at issue being the right to own slaves," he writes. The Confederate flag has the added baggage of having been adopted by racists and white supremacists.
So it seems the Sons of Confederate Veterans will just have to settle for rebel bumper stickers or else run the risk of not being publicly identified as an aggressively unapologetic Southerner.