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Supreme Court: States Need Not Tolerate Racist Traitor Flag on License Plates

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. that license plates are government speech, not open public forums. The state of Texas may thus reject the Sons of Confederate Veterans‘ request for a license plate bearing the Confederate Stars and Bars.

SCV “Commnder in Chief” and celebrator of treason Charles Kelly Barrow offers this specious gripe:

It is unfortunate that the Court has not extended the same sense of inclusion, diversity and tolerance to the estimated 70 million Americans of Confederate descent that is the right of every other American. The idea of inclusion, diversity, and tolerance apparently does not apply under law to those of us whose heritage is unpopular in some quarters.

This is a sad day for the First Amendment and for mutual respect and bridge-building among Americans of different viewpoints [Charles Kelly Barrow, statement, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2015.06.18].

How willfully certain conservatives misinterpret the liberal “tolerance” they so mock when it suits their needs. Tolerance does not mean granting everyone else license to do whatever they want without restriction or criticism. Tolerance does not demand surrendering certain absolute beliefs, like equal human rights and the supremacy of the Constitution to the racist impulses of certain states.

More succinctly, Chuck, tolerance does not mean putting up with your bovine manure.

X Confederate Flag
Don’t tolerate racists or traitors.

Germans do not tolerate the swastika. Their constitution outlaws the symbol of the hatred and inhumanity that led their nation to ruin and shame.

Americans and certainly the American government need not tolerate the symbol of the Southern states’ secession and treason. Quite the contrary: the state may have an obligation to eradicate the traitor flag from its official documents, products, and statehouse grounds.

Of course, the Supreme Court ruling only says may, not must. Thus, incredibly by morals if not by law, the traitor flag still flies at full mast on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse, even as the Stars and Stripes and the South Carolina state flag fly at half mast in honor of nine black Americans killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Charleston by a racist gunman who proudly displayed the Stars and Bars on his license plate as a symbol of his deathly hatred.

But that’s just one racist ruining everyone else’s fun, says Cooter:

“Now to hear that this son of a [expletive] had a Confederate plate,” said former U.S. Rep. Ben Jones of Georgia, famous for his role as Cooter in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard. “That said it all for me. Those people are the ones who are defining this issue and not the millions and millions of good people who see it as a symbol honoring their ancestors. It’s a crying shame.”

He blamed racists for tarnishing a flag that he said should honor all descendants, white and black, of soldiers who fought for the South as did two of his great-grandfathers.

More than anything, it’s that history of hate that led to Thursday’s dispiriting decision, he said.

“There’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t appeal the Supreme Court,” he said. “But it won’t make me feel any differently. Except to make me more angry at the bigots and racists who desecrate the Confederate symbols” [Michael A. Lindenberger, “U.S. Supreme Court: Confederate Flag License Plates Are Government Speech, Not Free Speech,” Governing, 2015.06.19].

Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal members of the Court in ruining Cooter’s day and upholding the state’s right to control the messages placed on license plates. Thomas left the writing to Justice Stephen Breyer, who explains that we cannot compel the government to make speech that undermines its own mission:

Were the Free Speech Clause interpreted otherwise, government would not work. How could a city government create a successful recycling program if officials, when writing householders asking them to recycle cans and bottles, had to include in the letter a long plea from the local trash disposal enterprise demanding the contrary? How could a state government effectively develop pro- grams designed to encourage and provide vaccinations, if officials also had to voice the perspective of those who oppose this type of immunization? “[I]t is not easy to imagine how government could function if it lacked th[e] freedom” to select the messages it wishes to convey. Summum, supra, at 468 [Justice Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court, Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., 2015.06.18].

By extension, the state certainly does not have to fly the flag of traitors who rejected the very Constitution that sustains the nation and the states that comprise it.

We may have to tolerate yahoos flapping a racist, traitorous flag over their heads, but the state does not have to fly it for them.


  1. mike from iowa 2015-06-19

    Interesting that Old Glory and South Carolina State flag were lowered to half mast for the church massacre victims,but there is a confederate battle flag permanently affixed at the top of the flag pole that can’t be moved without consent of the legislature. Bravely waving high and above Old Glory.

  2. mhs 2015-06-19

    Had I gotten better than a “C” in Con Law and were on the Court, my opinion would perhaps be a bit more direct: “It was war. You lost. Shut up”

  3. John 2015-06-19

    It is most unfortunate and the nation continues paying for the short-sightedness that my Union relatives and its leaders that they did not kill nearly enough white Southern men. If another 2-4 million Confederate men died perhaps the US could have begun the nation anew. As we see in the Confederacy, as in the ignorant parts of the Middle East, hate lives and flourishes a long time.

  4. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-19

    I followed this, and am pleased with the SCOTUS decision. I would like to see that nasty flag outlawed as Germany so wisely outlawed the swastika. They were smart enough to legally obliterate the symbol of their national shame. I wish the US would be that wise, but I’m not holding my breath.

    How shameful of SC to celebrate that and leave it flying high, while the flags of a civilized people are lowered. It’s as if the state’s racist residents are pleased with the massacre of innocent citizens. Bah!

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-20

    Deb, I hesitate to go beyond Walker v. SCV and arrest people for flying the Confederate flag. There’s an important difference between saying the state can refuse to facilitate the display of a traitor symbol and prohibiting citizens from engaging in such speech. I know Germany does it, and other countries have stricter hate-speech laws, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable banning speech in and of itself. I’d need to hear a strong constitutional argument that displaying that symbol incites violence or treason.

    But while I don’t know if law can take such action, I’m certainly cool with shame taking that action. Every person displaying the Stars and Bars should face questions about his or her patriotism and commitment to the Union and the Constitution. “Why the f— is there a rebel flag on your hat?” asks the author of the article Deb links. That’s a hard confrontation to invite in civil society… but proudly displaying a symbol of treason invites it. South Carolina and the other members of the Confederacy tried to tear down our government and Constitution as surely as bin Laden or ISIS have. They certainly caused the death of more Americans. Wearing a Confederate flag on one’s clothing should be as offensive as wearing a bin Laden t-shirt.

  6. Don Coyote 2015-06-20

    @cah: An honest examination of history shows that the Confederates were no more traitors than were Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin and other signers of the Constitution were. The Framers essentially seceded from the Articles of Confederation by use of extraconstitutional means such as ignoring the requirement for all States to ratify changes to the Articles and by side stepping the legal authority of State legislatures/assemblies through the use of state conventions.

    In fact, even our Nation was born from secession in that the “revolution” overturned no government but created a new one simply by leaving the old government. In fact the Confederates believed that they were being more faithful to the principles of the original Revolution than were the Northern States.

    Also calling the battle flag of Norther Virginia the Stars and Bars is a misnomer. The battle flag of NV came about because of confusion on the battlefield as the official Stars and Bars flag of the Confederacy was too similar to the Stars and Stripes.

    Considering the pablum that is served in today’s history classes, it’s no wonder that ignorance abounds.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-06-20

    Not sure, Cory bit it reads like Haggar just called you an idiot.

  8. David Newquist 2015-06-20

    The Ann Coulter school of fact mutilation must have a branch campus in South Dakota.

  9. mike from iowa 2015-06-20

    You can blame extreme right wing nut jobs for the new history books. It all starts in Texas with nuts who want to replace public education with religious propaganda.

  10. Jana 2015-06-20

    So Don Coyote, Lora Hubbell and the merry band of South Dakota secessionists are true patriots and on par with Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin and the other signers of the constitution?

    Wait…what? That’s different?

    Slavery and the economic impact of freeing the slaves had everything to do with the Civil War. Don’t even attempt to place the confederate leaders, or their ideology, to be the same as the Founding Fathers.

    Wait…what? You are from the party of Lincoln…what did he have to say about the Confederacy?

  11. Jaa Dee 2015-06-20

    As someone as “libbie” as anybody here, again I check out this site and again it is more irritating than S.D. War College which I actually use.

    Members of both sides of my family fought for the south because they were FORCED to.

    The removal of a flag, license plate or the banning of anything else “you people” find offensive is not going to change anything. As I’ve asked cons., what else do you want to ban to make yourselves feel better? A few days ago I clicked a link to this site and on the thread everyone of you people were saying some wing-nut writing to the Mitchel newspaper should NOT be allowed to express his ( ignorant disgusting) views in a LTE…..That is the stupid, un-American mentality of the dumbest of the whack job conservatives The self-supposed elitist liberals on some issues are no different than the idiotic conservatives

    I will fly a confederate because it is part of my heritage,our history, a reminder of that history,…but honestly just to piss-off people like y’all that think because something sooo offends you it should not exist
    As to the****** poster spewing the idea that more of “them” (Americans) should have died, …you are as stupid as any slope headed 6 fingered conservative from the any part of this country .

  12. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-20

    Take It Down! Hell, Cut It Down!!!

    News Flash: For the self serving white privileged that worship the confederate flag, there is no longer a confederacy, they were defeated by patriotic Americans that abhorred owning Americans and using them as slaves.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-21

    Don, you perpetuate the same convenient equivalency that the racists in the Black Hills use to oppose renaming Harney Peak with Lakota words. You will surely invoke the Founding Fathers when it suits your purpose to defend some conservative hobbyhorse, but now you brand Washington et al. traitors to defend the indefensible that makes you conservatives look bad. You make an argument not because the argument is solid or consistent with anything you believe but because you need something to defend yourself against the prospect that I’m right and you’re wrong.

    Don’s analogy is bogus. It fails because the Stars and Stripes is not a racist flag created by men who seceded from the Union to preserve the racist institution of slavery. The analogy fails because we aren’t talking about asking Britain to fly the flag of vanquished traitors; the Stars and Stripes represents an independent nation. If Britain wanted to ban flying the American flag out of contempt for our secession, I would understand, especially if factions in Britain used that flag to rally racist violence. If the Confederacy had won, the Confederacy would have every right to fly its own flag on its own ground. The analogy fails because Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and our others Founders were right, and Davis and the Confederates were wrong.

    Think about that last line for a moment. I was going to list the leaders of the Confederacy, but I couldn’t. Is that just because I learned my history from the victors and we have sidelined the great men of the rebellion? No—it’s because the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution came from men of great ideas, men who could ground their rebellion in Locke and Rousseau, men whose ideas and achievements could inspire movement to democracy for over two centuries.

    The Confederacy offered no such great men. They offered no lasting ideas. They triggered disunion and death out of (as Roger mentions) selfishness and racism. Their flag, like Don’s argument, is used toilet paper, worthy only of flushing. I’ll teach that in my history classes, Don, guaranteed.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-21

    Jaa Dee, I’m not trying to feel better. I’m recognizing historical fact: the Confederate flag represents racism and treason. No state swearing to uphold the Constitution should fly a flag raised to tear down that Constitution. (I’d probably feel better if I just didn’t say anything, didn’t engage in political discourse, and didn’t incur angry responses.)

    Your family history seems to offer no weight to the argument of those like Don who would defend that stained banner. The fact that your ancestors were forced to serve in a traitor army should be all the more reason to take offense at that proud displays of that oppressor’s flag. Your display of the Stars and Bars makes about as much sense as a Jew raising a swastika outside the synagogue.

    Do notice, Jaa Dee, that I said to Deb I’m not convinced that we should legally ban the Confederate flag, any more than I think we should legally ban publication of offensive viewpoints. However, I join the commenters here in looking racists in the eye and saying, “That’s a traitor flag; you shouldn’t fly it.”

    As for the wingnuts writing to the Mitchell paper… are you referring to the Heckel letter of December 2014 and the Shaw letter of November 2014? In those cases we were talking about letters that couldn’t pass simple fact-checking, and we were talking about editorial decisions, not law. Without any hesitation, I will make the editorial decision to refuse to publish an ad featuring the Confederate flag in any glorifying fashion.

    So switch your morning blend, Jaa Dee—we’re still much more useful, instructive, and honest than Dakota War College.

  15. larry kurtz 2015-06-21

    Flags of the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers represent militancy against the occupied United States: why should they be spared?

  16. mike from iowa 2015-06-21

    Pretty much every wingnut candidate for Potus refused to come to grips with the fact that the slaughyer of Black christians was a racially motivated hate crime. They chose,instead, to call it an attack on christian religion until they got pilloried on social media and had to admit they were ignoring the crime for what it was.

  17. John 2015-06-21

    Barring minor US governments from displaying the flagged symbol of treason will change things – as much has Germany’s ban on displaying the equally racist flag and symbols of the National Socialists. Government bans put the treason against the peoples’ government in the proper legal and moral context for present and future generations.

  18. John 2015-06-21

    Jaa Dee: Certainly millions more of the white male traitors should have been killed. They were not citizens of the USA or ‘Americans’ at the time. They rejected their USA citizenship for that of a treasonous outlaw government bent only on selfish economic advancement through a medieval-like enslavement of others – so they were not ‘Americans’ in the sense of being citizens of the USA (though were ‘Americans’ in the sense they lived in the North American continent, similar to the Indigenous, Mexicans, etc.). After the Civil War the President and government of the USA had to and did restore the citizenship, right to vote, etc., of confederate officials and residents. President Andrew Johnson restored the citizenship of many – with 14 excepted classes, whom had to petition the President in writing to restore their USA citizenship. It took President Ford to restore the traitor, robert e lee’s, and President Carter to restore the traitor, jefferson davis’s citizenship.

    Part of the ‘heritage’ of confederate apologists is being striped of and having no USA citizenship, none of its rights, freedoms, liberties, and privileges.

    Their flag belongs in a museum, adjacent to the clownish, traitorous kkk suit.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-21

    Larry, I don’t think the state is obliged to fly any such militant rebel flags.

  20. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-21

    Jaa Dee must really enjoying reading a daily barrage of daily press releases on the Dump Site.

  21. Chris S. 2015-06-21

    The Dixie Swastika as “Southern Tradition” is a bunch of BS. That is, unless the “Southern Tradition” dates to 1961 and the Civil Rights era, when a bunch of white southerners suddenly rediscovered a version of their heritage. I guess it’s only coincidence that it happened when certain other Americans were gaining equal rights under the law (if you know what I mean, and I think that you do).

  22. larry kurtz 2015-06-21

    Under Dog The People Rule.

  23. larry kurtz 2015-06-21

    A state where the Wounded Knee Massacre is celebrated as a battle, South Dakota’s Statehouse and Supreme Court are festooned with racist religious iconography: how South Carolina’s choices are any different remains a mystery.

  24. John 2015-06-21

    Jaa Dee: Consider questioning, challenging, and re-investigating your family’s likely legend, myth, and folklore concerning your confederate relatives being ‘forced to fight’, as opposed to reluctantly deciding to fight for the confederacy. (DNA research helped me untangle one of my family’s myths, legends, and folklore – challenging myths is good.)

    The truth is that no one, no force, is able to ‘force one to fight.’ The Pharisees were unable to provoke Jesus Christ to fight, despite torture. If that’s too powerful or distant an example, then consider that the US government’s torture and eventual murder was unable to force the South Dakota Hofer brothers and Mr. Wipf from violating their moral code to fight. Ditto for the members of the die Weisse Rose, and later Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Religious doctrines remind us that folks have free will. Sometimes exercising our free will results in terminal consequences; nevertheless we cannot truly be ‘forced to fight’ or do anything that we exercising free will chose not to do with our lives. Moral authority is likely the strongest authority. Sometimes requires offering ones life rather than submitting to an evil.

    Larry: hat tip for your good points.

  25. Curt Jopling 2015-06-22

    Since when did the confederate flag represent “inclusion, diversity, and tolerance”?

  26. leslie 2015-06-22

    2,215,000 young 18 year old males, largely, were drafted into the military during the vietnam war.

    many more enlisted to avoid the draft.

  27. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-22

    It has taken the lives of nine innocent Black Christians, but today the call for removal of the South Carolina equivalent of the swastika is growing and that flag may be coming down.
    Charleston”s Black and White Christian, civic leaders and political leaders, including the mayor of Charleston, have call for the flag to be removed.
    Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham will be the first in his party to call for the flag’s removal.
    Santorum, Huckabee, and other racist republicans have all equivocated on the flag issue, if not avoiding the issue they feel it is not a national issue.
    It is a national issue when at least seven other states endorse the southern swastika in some manner.

  28. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-22

    republican Governor Nikki Haley will join the call to remove the southern swastika by asking the legislature to overturn the law requiring that flag to be flown over the capital.

  29. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-22

    Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptists. They are an extremely conservative branch of baptists, in addition to being the largest. Nonetheless, Moore has written an essay about his opposition to the nasty symbol of racial hate that this post is about. It’s here:

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