|Mississippi State flag.|
This event raises the ever so prevalent questions surrounding the Confederate flag, and whether or not it should (or is it legal to) be banned in the United States, since to many people, it carries an underlying meaning of racism.
Since we are discussing Supreme Court cases in class, I thought it would be helpful to discuss relevant cases.
In the Supreme Court case Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans from June of this year, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision that the State of Texas is allowed to refuse to offer a Confederate flag license plate theme.
This case considered two questions:
1. Do specialty license plates constitute government speech that is immune from any requirement of viewpoint neutrality?
2. Does preventing the confederate flag from appearing on license plates constitute viewpoint discrimination?
The majority opinion argued that license plates represent government speech, not personal speech because of its strong association with government. Therefore, if Texas chooses to not offer these license plates, it is not violating First Amendment rights to free speech since it is not suppressing the free speech of the individual but rather portraying the viewpoint of the government. This conclusion was reached using the Pleasant Grove City v. Summum case as a precedent. This case, decided in 2009, was relevant because it answered the question, "Does a city's refusal to place a religious organization's monument in a public park violate that organization's First Amendment free speech rights when the park already contains a monument from a different religious group?" The Court unanimously decided that placing a monument in a public park is a reflection of government and its speech.
Going back to the Confederate flag issue, Justice Alito disagreed with the majority. He argued that "Suppose you sat by the side of a Texas highway and studied the license plates on the vehicles passing by... If a car with a plate that says "Rather Be Golfing" passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: "This is the official policy of the State-- Better to golf than to work?"
Obviously, there is no clear cut answer to this question of free speech and what exactly "free speech" even constitutes. Does the First Amendment apply to the Confederate flag? Does the government have the right to limit or prohibit the exhibition of this flag? What do you think?
Bombing: Washington Post, CBS News
Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans: Oyez, Economist
Pleasant Grove City v. Summum: Oyez