My position on Texas personalized license plates bearing the Confederate flag might put me in the minority within the African-American community, but I believe the personalized plates deserve First Amendment protection.
While the sight of a Confederate flag still makes me uneasy, if those wanting to show their love for the Confederacy are prohibited to on personalized license plates because it offends many, who’s to say the government cannot stop me from expressing my love for Jesus Christ because it offends non-Christians.
The beautiful thing about the United States Constitution is that it does not protect the rights of only those we agree with. But it also protects the rights of those we disagree with. And if we allow the rights of our adversaries to be infringed upon, pretty soon our rights will be infringed upon as well.
According to the Houston Chronicle, “In 2009, the Confederate veterans group applied to the state of Texas for a specialty license with the image of a Confederate battle flag. In a lengthy, convoluted process, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which has more than 400 varieties of specialty licenses, rejected the design on a split vote after hearing thousands of comments from the public, including many complaints that the image was offensive.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, an African-American congresswoman from Houston, is one that has strongly fought the Confederate personalized license plate for five years calling it offensive speech.
Lee correctly stated that, “It is a state-issued license that honors my oppression.”
While that opinion definitely has merit, the First Amendment does protect hate speech. It only prohibits such speech or conduct that leads to violence, a riot or physical threats.
In 1989, a federal District Court ruled that the University of Michigan violated students’ freedom of speech by prohibiting “racist” or “sexist” speech on campus, according to “Communications Law: Liberties, Restraints, and the Modern Media” by John D. Zelezny.
Zelezny wrote, “But no matter how well intentioned the university’s policy, the court said, rules that punish speech solely on the grounds that it is unseemly or offensive are consistently held to be unconstitutional.”
With all due respect to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who deserves as much praise as anyone on the bench, her comparison of the Confederate personalized license plates to a message on a personalized license plate advocating terrorism is not a fair comparison.
While the Confederacy did advocate racism, slavery and a system of oppression, the appearance of a confederate flag should not be equated to modern day terrorism.
If the license plates advocated violence against African-Americans today then that would be a different story.
Furthermore, I am more offended when I see African-American rappers like Kanye West, Lil Jon and Ludacris wearing clothing with Confederate flags than I am when I see a White person waving that flag.
Nevertheless, this case is unique because it’s a state-issued license plate with an offensive message.
However, if it is found unconstitutional then Americans of all viewpoints will eventually suffer.
Who’s to say that a pro-life license plate won’t offend some woman who had to make the difficult decision to have an abortion?
Who’s to say that atheists won’t get offended when they see a cross on a personalized license plate?
Heck, I’m offended when I see Houstonians representing the Dallas Cowboys on their license plates.
If offending someone stops free speech, then Americans should stop endorsing free speech altogether.
That position will probably make me unpopular, but if the plates are outlawed, it is only a matter of time until things I hold dear are deemed offensive and outlawed as well.