A federal lawsuit [complaint, PDF] was filed on Monday against the governor of Mississippi challenging the state flag, the last one in the country that bears the Confederate battle emblem. Carlos Moore, the Mississippi native and civil rights lawyer that filed the claim [WP report], alleges that the imagery “is tantamount to hateful government speech that both has a discriminatory intent and disparate impact.” The lawsuit goes on to state a fear for personal safety and the safety of African-Americans “because of the state sanctioned hate speech” and seeks the removal of the flag from all government buildings. A spokesman for Governor Dewey “Phil” Bryant [personal website] responded by expressing a desire to leave the decision to the political system and stating that the suit “is a frivolous attempt to use the federal court system to usurp the will of the people.” Moore was hoping the state legislature would make a change to the state flag, but attempts have continuously been stalled. Ole Miss [academic website] removed the state flag from campus [WP report] Monday morning, and serious debate has already been sparked.
Debate has intensified in the past year over the acceptability of confederate symbols in everyday life. In August a judge in Texas denied a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the University of Texas at Austin [official website] from relocating a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis [JURIST report]. In July it came to light that Dylann Roof, who is charged with the murder of nine black church members in South Carolina [JURIST report], prominently posed [NYT report] with the confederate flag. Also in July South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from the state house [JURIST report]. Although the Charleston shooting led to renewed focus on the use of the Confederate flag, controversy over the flag has persisted for years. In June the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled that state governments can restrict [JURIST report] the kinds of messages printed on specialty license plates after the Sons of Confederate Veterans argued that the Texas government’s refusal to issue specialty license plates including an image of the confederate flag violated the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. In June 2012 a federal judge in Virginia dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] which challenged the constitutionality of the city of Lexington’s ordinance banning the Confederate flag from being flown on city poles. In 2008 a federal court affirmed [JURIST report] a district court’s grant of summary judgment to a Tennessee public high school in a lawsuit brought by three students who claimed the school’s ban on wearing the Confederate flag was unconstitutional.