The Confederate license plate needs to go

The Confederate battle flag is back in the news.

The state of Georgia just released a redesigned license plate that features the flag on the left side, as well as being the background for the entire plate. Across the bottom reads “Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

The plate costs $80, with $10 going to the Confederate organization, which says it will use the money “to promote education efforts and preservation of statues, monuments and other historic items,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A recent poll, which is at the bottom of this page, asked local readers what they thought about the new design. The vast majority, 341, liked it, 114 didn’t, and 105 had no opinion.

We agree with those who oppose it. The state was wrong to issue the Confederate license plate back in 2003, and it remains wrong today.

It is one thing for someone to put a Confederate bumper sticker on their personal car or the flag in the back window of a pickup truck. That is an issue of free speech, an issue this newspaper obviously holds dear, whether we agree with the message or not.

But it is something completely different when it is, basically, state-sponsored. The state should not issue, nor make money off, something that is so divisive to a large number of its populace.

Georgia offers a wide variety of specialized license plates. There are dozens for veterans and universities: breast cancer, Rotary, wildlife, wildflowers, amateur radio, soccer, nurses and so forth. None raise any controversy — other than school rivalries, of course. This plate, however, does nothing but inflame passions on both sides of the debate.

Proponents of the plate say it is an important symbol of the South’s heritage. Opponents say it is a racially motivated symbol reminding them of slavery. Blacks make up more than 30 percent of the state’s population, and about the same here in Coweta County.

Symbols are powerful. They inspire hope, fear, passion, bravery, intolerance, hatred or love. The German swastika, the Japanese rising sun, the yellow star of David. Not too long ago, a vote to allow a constitutional amendment that would prohibit desecrating the American flag failed in the Senate by one vote.

Many would say one of the key reasons then-Governor Roy Barnes lost re-election was his decision to change the 1956 state flag, which prominently displayed the battle flag.

According to the state’s own regulations concerning specialized tags, they may not be issued if one “contains language, a message or material that defames or ridicules a person, group, religious belief or being, race or ethnicity.”

By that definition, the state should not issue a license plate with the Confederate battle flag on it. It may well represent for many pride in the South’s heritage, but it also, in the eyes of at least a third of this state, represents a period of slavery and intolerance.

A state-sponsored license tag highlighting the Confederate battle flag is simply not welcome in this day and age.





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