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Religious Tolerance logo

Mass murder at church in Charleston, SC, and the
impact that the event had on how the Confederate
Flag was viewed.

Part 10 of 11: 2015-JUL to OCT
Four rebel flags found on Atlanta church grounds.
Some other flag-related events.
Conflicts over flag symbols on car license plates.

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This topic is continued from Part 9

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2015-MAR to JUN: Conflict resolved over specialty car license plates in Texas:

The Sons of Confederate Veterans had asked the Texas motor vehicle board to make a plate design available to car owners that contained the group's symbol. The symbol contains an image of the Confederate Flag.

Texas already had hundreds of different custom designs available for its drivers. At a board hearing held to discuss the group's request, Rev. George V. Clark, 82 -- an African-American minister -- said that:

"It saddens me that the possibility even exists that I might still be driving around the state and frequently see something that represents hate, something that has made people feel less than human." 1

The board unanimously voted to reject the plate design. They explained:

"A significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups." 1

The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the plate design. It is called: "Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc." The Circuit Court ruled that the State of Texas had violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against the freedom of speech of Texans who view:

"... the Confederate flag ... [as] a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage." 1

The Texas Government took the position that the flag was offensive to a "... significant portion" of the public. They appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. During oral arguments in 2015-MAR, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller (R) said that:

"... while people are free to festoon their cars with bumper stickers saying whatever they want, they cannot force the government to give its stamp of approval to those messages."

During 2015-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the"Walker" case. With the 5 to 4 ruling that is seen so often in High Court decisions involving religious, moral or ethical factors, the High Court ruled that the Texas government did not violate the U.S. Constitution when it refused to issue plates displaying the image of the Confederate flag. The Justices determined that the design of the license plates constitutes government speech. It was not speech by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or by the car owner. Thus, the state is free to decline any message that it does not wish to promote. 2

One surprising result of the vote was that Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia took opposite views in the case. Justice Scalia voted with the minority. This is an almost unheard-of event.

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2015-JUL-30: Four confederate flags were found at a famous church:

Two unknown men spread four small rebel flags overnight on the grounds of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. They were discovered the next morning by a church employee. This is the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached. The men's activity were recorded on church security video cameras.

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor at the church held a press conference. He said:

"This is the same as placing a swastika on the campus of a Jewish temple." 3

He also said:

"This act by a cowardly and misguided individual or individuals is provocative to say the least. It ought to get the attention not only of black people but of freedom-loving people. To place Confederate flags on the campus of Ebenezer Baptist Church after this horrific act in Charleston, in the wake of all this happening in our country, whatever the message was, it was clearly not about heritage, it was about hate." 4

Earlier in the day that the flags were placed on the church grounds, black clergy throughout the U.S. had gathered at the same church to discuss the roles that black churches can play in social justice issues.

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2015-JUL: Other recent rebel flag-related developments:

  • Dylann Roof, who has been charged with the murder of nine black persons in Charleston, is now facing federal hate crime charges as well.

  • Robert J. Bentley (R), the Governor of Alabama, had the rebel flag removed from the capitol grounds in Montgomery, AL.

  • Earlier in July, a group of protesters with Confederate flags greeted President Obama when he arrived to give a speech at an Oklahoma high school.

  • On JUL-27, a group of at least seven pickup trucks driven by Whites bearing rebel flags interrupted a Black child's birthday party with threats and racial epithets. This occurred in Douglas County, GA, a western suburb of Atlanta.

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2015-AUG: The State of Virginia tried to recall specialty license plates, and have been faced with strong resistance:

Car owners in Virginia with specialty license plates showing the symbol of the Sons of Confederate Veterans received letters from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Owners were asked to return their plates in exchange for a new plate without the symbol. They were to return the plates by OCT-04, or risk being charged with a misdemeanor.

Kevin Collier is a commander of the Stonewall Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who lives in Suffolk VA. He refused to return his plates, saying:

"Next thing you know, they’re going to say you can’t wear blue on Monday ... or you can’t wear yellow on Thursday. Where’s it going to end? ... I can’t fight on the [civil war] battlefield like they did but I can fight however I can in modern times and I’m not giving them plates up."


According to TV station WAVY-TV, of the 1,600 letters the DMV sent out, only 187 owners have returned their plates. This is a compliance rate of under 12%.

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This topic continues in Part 11

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Adam Liptak, "A Test of Free Speech and Bias, Served on a Plate From Texas," The New York Times, 2015-MAR-22, at:
  2. Scott Newman, "High Court Rules Specialty License Plates Constitute 'Government Speech'," National Public Radio, 2015-JUN-18, at:
  3. Rich McKay, "Confederate flags found at Martin Luther King Jr. church in Atlanta," Reuters, 2015-JUL-30, at:
  4. "Authorities hunt men who planted Confederate flags around historic Atlanta church," Fox News, 2015-JUL-31, at:
  5. Dave Urbanski, "Virginia Sent Letters to 1,600 Drivers Warning Them to Turn in Their Illegal Confederate Flag License Plates. How Do You Suppose That Went Over?" The Blaze, 2015-OCT-17, at:

Site navigation: Home > Religious violence > Murders in churches > Charleston > here

Home page > Christianity > Christian history, beliefs... > Murders in churches > Charleston > here

Copyright © 2015 & 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2015-JUN-27
Last updated 2016-NOV-29
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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