RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The Sons of Confederate Veterans do not have a constitutional right to fly the Confederate flag on public property, the 4th Circuit ruled.
The fraternal organization, which is open to male descendents of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate forces, filed suit after Lexington, Va., passed a law in September 2011 that put limits on what could fly from government-owned flagpoles.
Lexington passed the ordinance in response to the negative feedback it received after it allowed the group to fly the flag during a parade on Lee Jackson Day, a Southern holiday celebrating Confederate Civil War Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The 2011 ordinance says that only the flags of the United States of America, the commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Lexington can be flown from government-owned flagpoles.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson in Roanoke dismissed the group’s claims that the new ordinance violated the First Amendment.
“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,” the ruling stated.
Wilson noted that, “No court has found that the Constitution compels the government to allow private-party access to government flag poles.”
A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court affirmed last week.
“A government is entitled to close a designated public forum to all speech,” Judge Robert King wrote for a three-person panel.
He added: “Because the city’s flag standards are not a traditional public forum, there is no legal support for requiring the city to relinquish its control over them. Inasmuch as the ordinance was lawfully enacted to close a designated public forum, we affirm the dismissal of the SCV’s free speech claim.”
The lower court’s ruling had noted that there is nothing in the ordinance that 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 story,” he stated. “As such, the ordinance is perfectly reasonable.”
Sons of Confederate Veterans had wanted Confederate flags to line their parade route from city-owned flag poles affixed to street lights.