- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia cannot block a Confederate group from displaying its logo on specialty state license plates, a federal appeals court said yesterday.
The court upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser that Virginia's refusal to issue the tag because of its Confederate flag logo amounted to discrimination against the Sons of Confederate Veterans and violated the group's right to free speech.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state's argument that the license plates constitute public speech, and that the state had the right to regulate which groups and designs are allowed on plates that represent Virginia.
"The purpose of the special-plate program primarily is to produce revenue while allowing, on special plates authorized for private organizations, for the private expression of various views," the three-judge panel said.
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore had not read the ruling and had no comment, said his spokesman, Tim Murtaugh.
Brag Bowling, first lieutenant commander of the SCV's Virginia division, said the case was a waste of taxpayers' money.
"This is part and parcel of a much bigger picture, and that is the suppression of Confederate symbols for politically correct reasons," Mr. Bowling said. "A lot of public officials will quickly dump on our rights in order to score a few points."
The SCV sued Virginia in 1999, after the General Assembly approved a plate for the organization but refused to allow the group's logo, which features a Confederate flag. Some legislators argued that the flag represents bigotry.
Judge Kiser ruled in favor of the group in January 2001, and the case was argued before the 4th Circuit in October. Other courts have sided with the SCV in similar cases in recent years, Mr. Bowling said.
In Virginia, the General Assembly must approve all specialty plates, but the Department of Motor Vehicles issues them only if at least 350 persons sign up for them.
Mr. Bowling said the group has the 350 signatures and would be able to start getting the plates right away if the state decides not to appeal.
"We want to be treated like any other civic organization in Virginia. We're not the Ku Klux Klan," he said.

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