What part of history needs to be preserved?
ROYCE WEST | 7/13/2015, 10:55 a.m.
Texas made national headlines, ironically on of all days – June 19 – when the United States Supreme Court upheld the unanimous 2011 vote of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to deny an application by the Texas Division – Sons of Confederate Veterans to have issued a license plate that depicted the Confederate battle flag. However, it is the Sons of
Confederate Veterans who bemoan that their First Amendment freedoms have been abridged.
In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could in fact prohibit the creation of plates that carry messages that it does not promote. I agree with the decision of the high court and so do most all who have had comment since the decision was announced. It is hard for most African Americans, particularly those who have Southern roots, to look at images tied to the Confederacy and not associate them with slavery, subjugation, murder and racial hatred.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans consistently say now, as they have since 2009, that the plates have nothing to do with slavery or race. Their claimed purpose is to preserve the memories of the valor of their Civil War ancestors. But how can you separate one from the other? Especially when one supremacist group after the other has co-opted the battle flag as the symbol of their cause?
Unfortunately, a hate-filled reminder arrived just two days earlier in Charleston, South Carolina, when yet another disturbed shooter rose from a Wednesday night Bible study at his chosen target, a historical Black church, and purposefully murdered nine innocent victims, including the pastor, a South Carolina state senator. The day after his capture, police investigators released photos from the 21-year-old killer’s social media entries showing him holding the Confederate battle flag and noted more than 50 other photos of his visits to Confederate-themed locations. The killer also had Confederate plates on his car.
While the Confederate heritage group’s website says “the preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution,” history will bear out that the cause of liberty and freedom was not intended for Black slaves. In its Declaration of Secession signed Feb. 2, 1861, the writer declared the Union’s, “doctrine of equality of all men,” to be “a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”
Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said to issue the Confederate plates would be consistent with “government speech” which is not protected by First Amendment free speech rights. “As a general matter,” wrote Breyer, “when the government speaks, it is to espouse a policy or take a position.” Breyer also wrote, “A person who displays a message on a Texas license plate likely intends to convey to the public that the State has endorsed that message.”
In 2011, I joined other elected officials including members of Congress, Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee and Rep. Al Green, Texas House member Rep. Senfronia Thompson and my Senate colleague Rodney Ellis and others to testify against the issuance of the Confederate plates at a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing. “Why should we as Texans, want to be reminded of a state-sanctioned system of segregation and repression?” I asked the panel.
The high court’s 5-4 decision provided value-added in another regard. It is one of the rare times I have agreed with a vote cast by Justice Clarence Thomas.
State Sen. Royce West represents the 23rd District of Texas.