(CN) – The Sons of Confederate Veterans do not have a constitutional right to fly the Confederate flag on government property, a federal judge ruled.
The fraternal organization, which is open to male descendents of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate forces, filed suit after the city of Lexington passed a law in September 2011 that put limits on what could fly from government-owned flagpoles.
Though the city had just granted permission for the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans to hoist the Confederate flag on city-owned poles during an upcoming parade, the new law said the poles could now bear only the flags of the United States, the commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Lexington.
Sons of Confederate Veterans had wanted Confederate flags to line their parade route from city-owned flag poles affixed to street lights.
“SCV’s request was not without precedent – Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute, and the Kappa Alpha fraternity had all requested and received the City’s permission to temporarily fly representative flags from the very same flag poles,” according to the judgment.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson in Roanoke dismissed the group’s claims that the new ordinance violated the First Amendment.
“No court has found that the Constitution compels the government to allow private-party access to government flag poles,” the decision states.
“According to SCV … the city established a public forum by allowing private entities to use the city’s flag poles, and then closed the forum in order to silence SCV’s message,” he added. “This ‘viewpoint-based closure,’ SCV argues, violates the First Amendment. The court finds that the city’s alleged motivation in closing the forum does not override the facially content-neutral character of the city’s new ordinance. And, because the city’s decision to close the forum was eminently reasonable, the city has not violated the First Amendment.”
The judge also noted that “there are highly compelling practical reasons for a city to close its flag poles to private expression. 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. Related to that point, private expression might eventually so dominate city flag poles as to swallow whole the flag poles’ actual, official purposes.” (Emphasis in original)
Wilson also said that nothing in the ordinance prohibits the Sons of Confederate Veterans from carrying flags in public or displaying them on private property.
“SCV and other groups may therefore carry their flags in parades, fly them from the flag poles at their local offices, or wave them while walking to the grocery store. As such, the ordinance is perfectly reasonable,” he concluded.