WASHINGTON - Texas commemorates the Confederacy in many ways, from a celebration of Confederate Heroes Day each January to monuments on the grounds of the state Capitol in Austin. Among the memorials is one bearing an image of the Confederate battle flag etched in marble. But you're out of luck if you want to put that flag on your license plate. Texas says that would be offensive.
Now the Supreme Court will decide whether the state can refuse to issue a license plate featuring the battle flag without violating the free-speech rights of Texans who want one. The justices hear arguments Monday in a challenge brought by the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The group sued over the state's decision not to authorize its proposed license plate with its logo bearing the battle flag, similar to plates issued by eight other states that were members of the Confederacy and Maryland.
The First Amendment dispute has brought together some unlikely allies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, antiabortion groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff, and conservative satirist P.J. O'Rourke.
"In a free society, offensive speech should not just be tolerated, its regular presence should be celebrated as a symbol of democratic health - however odorous the products of a democracy may be," Hentoff, O'Rourke, and others said in a brief backing the group.
A state motor vehicle board rejected the Sons of Confederate Veterans application because of concerns it would offend many Texans who believe the flag is a racially charged symbol of repression.