Attempts to nix display of Confederate flags will also impose limits on other flags.Lexington, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today conveyed its concerns about a proposed flag ordinance to be deliberated at tonight’s meeting of the Lexington City Council. In an attempt to limit displays of the Confederate flag in downtown Lexington, local elected officials are backing a proposal to ban all but the U.S., state, and city flag from city lampposts.
Because the lampposts are city property and because the proposed ordinance does not allow private citizens or organizations to use them, the ACLU says the ordinance probably does not violate the free speech provisions of the First Amendment.
“If the city were trying to prohibit private citizens from displaying the Confederate flag on their own property or in public forum, such as a gathering in a city park, that would violate free speech,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “But lampposts are city property, and the city can decide which flags are flown from them in the same way it can decide which flags are flown from city hall or the local courthouse.”
“The city would run afoul of the Constitution only if it invited private parties to fly flags from the light poles, but then refused to allow the flags it didn’t approve of, such as the Confederate flag,” added Willis. “That would constitute viewpoint discrimination and be a violation of the First Amendment.”
In 1993, the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the City o f Lexington after it refused to allow a Confederate flag in a parade honoring General Stonewall Jackson. In that case, however, the city had invited the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other private groups to participate in the parade.
Although the ACLU believes the proposed ordinance will stand up to a constitutional challenge, it has advised city officials not to pass it.
“City council could live to regret this ordinance, as it imposes unusually restrictive limits on the use of the light poles,” said Willis. “Sometime in the future when city officials want to use those light poles to promote a special event or celebrate a holiday, they may find themselves handcuffed by their own lawmaking.”
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022