The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard arguments today in a First Amendment lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute, which alleges that the City of Lexington, Va., violated the Constitution by prohibiting a civil war heritage society from flying the Confederate flag on flag standards maintained by the city. Institute attorneys asked the appeals court to reverse a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, which dismissed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) on the grounds that the City was free to adopt an ordinance denying private parties the use of flag standards along City streets even though it had previously allowed local organizations to fly their flags from the standards. In arguments to the three-judge appeals panel, Rutherford Institute attorneys contend that the City’s motive for adopting the flag ordinance—allegedly in response to an SCV request to fly the Confederate flag and because of the City’s opposition to the message conveyed by that flag—was colored by a desire to silence the SCV’s speech.
“The First Amendment was penned by the Framers of the Constitution to protect our ideas and speech, both the popular and the unpopular,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The issue here is not whether the Confederate flag should be displayed but whether we, as Americans, remain committed to the idea of free speech. If we allow the censoring of something simply because it may be controversial, we open the door for the government to discard anything deemed disturbing or offensive.”
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