Thursday, July 17, 2014

A quantum of umbrage: Heritage

So this turned up in my news feed:
The state of Texas’s decision not to issue a license plate that incorporates the Confederate battle flag violates the First Amendment, according to a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The majority opinion by Judge Edward Prado concludes that Texas engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination by implicitly disfavoring the view that “the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence, and Southern heritage” and crediting the viewpoint that “the Confederate flag is an inflammatory symbol of hate and oppression.”
Soon to be followed by this:
Long live the confederacy, at least for some Republicans in Mississippi. A new Public Policy Poll shows that if there was another Civil War between the Union and Confederacy, 37 percent of Republicans who voted in the Mississippi primary runoff between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) would support the Confederate States of America.

Overall, 29 percent of the Mississippi voters polled said they'd support the Confederate side, while 16 percent said they'd support a move to secede from the United States.
Which makes this a good occasion for reviewing a long-held belief here at p3: Although it makes us throw up in the back of our mouth a little bit, we defend the display of the Confederate flag – whether in front of public buildings, or on t-shirts, bumper-stickers, boxer shorts, tramp stamps, or garages in Jackson, Mississippi – on two grounds. The first is explicitly free-speech: It's the ugliest ideas that most need First Amendment protection. The Fifth Circuit Court was right, of course: The Confederate flag is an inflammatory symbol of hate and oppression, but if someone wants to pay $50.75 to put that  inflammatory symbol of hate and oppression on the license plate of their pickup truck (provided no other laws were broken in the process), so be it. The second is that it's what you might call a public health service: Confederate flags are like hazmat warning signs: Danger – Toxic Environment Ahead.

And, as ever, this blog stands by Nothstine's Law of Free Speech: If defending free speech doesn't hurt, at least a little, you're probably not doing it right.

Of course, the term "southern heritage" is code for a certain nostalgia for a political and economic system that couldn't survive without human slavery (or, for a century thereafter, state-sanctioned apartheid). And as for the risible idea that Mississippi – which costs the most taxpayer dollars of any state just to keep it ahead of Sierra Leone – might secede from the union, well, match the gain against the cost of redesigning the American flag and it's tempting to remind them not to let the door strike them from behind as they exit the building.

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