Confederate flag drama flutters back to court

Posted at 10:22 PM, May 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-16 22:25:40-04

(WTVR) -- While the Confederate flag may be a symbol of the Commonwealth's painful history for some, one group is fighting to fly the Confederate flag in one Virginia city.

In 2011, the City of Lexington passed an ordinance banning the stars and bars from all city-owned flagpoles.  The city only allows people to fly U.S., state and city flags.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued to have the decision reversed, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last June.

Now, the group is taking their battle to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to uphold the First Amendment.

"Our argument is that this ordinance was done in specific retaliation of our clients trying to fly their own flag by asking the city for permission," said Thomas Strelka, an attorney for The Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Strelka also said citizens have a right to display messages that may offend or embolden -- or create happiness or sadness.

"It's part of this country to celebrate the right we have to First Amendment freedom of speech," Stelka said.

Lexington's Mayor Mimi Elrod tells CBS 6 that it was not just about the Confederate flag.

"If we had not developed this ordinance, we might have a group of people who were opposed to women's choice or who were pro-life.  And they would get into a discussion through their flags," said Mimi Elrod, Lexington Mayor.

And Elrod says they did anticipate back lash over the decision.

"People can put the flags in front of their own stores if they want to.  They can put the flags in their yards, Elrod said. "I mean it's not as if those flags are banned from our city."

However, attorneys for the Confederate Sons question where does it stop?

"There could be an ordinance by a city to prevent certain types of groups from gathering on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse which is a traditional place of public speech," said Strelka.

The Court of Appeals did not rule on this case, but just heard arguments from both sides.

If the three panel judge decides to uphold the lower courts ruling, attorneys for the Confederate Sons of Veterans say this case could be headed to the Virginia Supreme Court.