Free speech isn’t always popular speech


The right to free speech is not always easy to tolerate when exercised by others.

For example, it’s revolting when racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are allowed to obtain a parade permit to march down Main Street, USA, because having parades are open to every other group.

Accepting this, while difficult, is essential to ensure government doesn’t pick and choose whose ideas are acceptable and whose are not.

Government officials should understand this when they launch fun, well-intended programs that allow folks to express themselves — and, of course, bring in some revenue.

Texas, like eight other states (including Washington), allows motorists to pay a little extra to have their license plates adorned with symbols that mean something to them — from professional sports and college logos to interests such as bicycling to clubs and organizations.

Yet, this seemingly innocent practice has created a firestorm in Texas because an organization — the Sons of Confederate Veterans — wants its specialty license plate to be embossed with the Confederate battle flag. That flag, 150 years after the Civil War, is a painful symbol of slavery and racism to many.

The Texas Department of Licensing, like the DOL in some other states, rejected the use of the flag to be sensitive to those who find it offensive. But the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued and eventually won in federal court.

The court said the depictions on the license plates should be considered private speech and protected by the First Amendment. The court added the state’s standard for what qualifies as offensive was too vague.

Given the ruling, the only way Texas (or any other state) can prevent this type of thing from occurring is to shut down the program. It’s not much different from the practice of allowing groups to meet at public schools. School officials (the government) can’t pick and choose what groups can meet. It’s open to everyone or no one.

Legally, the federal court got it right. We say that even though we still find the Confederate flag, as a symbol, offensive.

Allowing all speech to be free of government censorship is what the First Amendment is about.


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