Lexington law banning Confederate flag still flies

June 15, 2012

ROANOKE — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a Lexington ordinance that prevents flying the Confederate battle flag on municipal poles.

The ordinance adopted last year allows only the city, state and national flags to be flown from municipal poles.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans argued that the ordinance violates the group’s free speech, but city officials contended that the ordinance doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it bans all private flags from city-owned poles.

U.S. District Court Judge Samuel G. Wilson Jr. ruled that since the ban applied to all flags except the U.S., state and city flags, the city was not trying to infringe the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ free speech rights.

"The Constitution does not compel a municipality to provide its citizens a bully pulpit, but rather requires it to refrain from using its own position of authority to infringe free speech," Wilson ruled.

"The city that cracks the door to private expression on flag poles practically invites litigation from other groups whose messages it would rather not hoist above the city," Wilson wrote. "Private expression might eventually so dominate city flag poles as to swallow how the flag poles’ actual, official purposes,:

The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the city clashed in 1993 when the group said the city wanted to ban it from parading with Confederate flags, and won a court order barring the city from doing anything like that. Wilson said he did not believe the city violated that order with it flag pole ban.

Brandon Dorsey, camp commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Lexington branch, said the group was considering an appeal.

The group said Wilson’s ruling "would allow any government facility to be closed off to private use if the government disliked certain individuals or their views, so long as the government then prevented everyone else from using that forum … that logic would legitimize many of the wrongs committed by state and local governments during the Civil Rights era."

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