Confederate plates: An utter disgrace

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Texas motorists may soon be able to sport a license plate with a Confederate flag logo if the Department of Motor Vehicles approves it this fall.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans applied for such a plate to the DMV, where it is one vote away from getting approved. Recognizing this notorious icon of treason, divisiveness and racism on a state-issued plate is an utter disgrace to all Texans.

The veterans group, whose mission is to honor the heritage of Confederate soldiers, sought the plate to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The group had already applied for the specialty plate in August 2009 to the Department of Transportation, the state agency that handled plate applications at the time. After the department turned down the group’s application, the group reapplied three months later to the newly created DMV, which finally began to consider the application in April.

Due to a tie vote in the DMV’s license board, the Confederate plate is now only one vote away from approval. The nine-member board, with one member absent, split evenly on approval in April, so the members agreed to vote again June 9. However, the vote was canceled because a board member died six days earlier than the scheduled re-vote, so the issue cannot be settled until Gov. Rick Perry selects a new board member in the fall.

The logo, based on the battle flag borne by most Confederate soldiers throughout the Civil War, has also long been identified as a racist symbol, particularly to many African-Americans. The symbol’s ubiquitous association with white supremacist groups, combined with the Confederacy’s support for preserving slavery, has in recent decades fueled controversies throughout the South on what the flag should stand for today. The veterans group and associated groups have rejected the racist implications of the flag and insisted the flag simply represents the homeland their ancestors fought for.

But the flag is a symbol of treason and sedition against our country and its values. Countless Americans have fought and died in Yorktown, Marne, Iwo Jima and Baghdad for the Stars and Stripes. The flag of the United States not only embodies a guarded freedom but the validation of our founders’ principle of a more perfect union. The U.S. flag represents the ironclad will to reject self-interests, whether they are regional or personal, for the security and sovereignty of our country as a whole.

The Confederacy and its flag only uphold the dishonorable vice of disloyalty to our representative democracy. By engaging in violent rebellion against the Union, the Confederates implicitly and explicitly declared that a sole economic institution (that is, slavery) was worth more than the ideals of the United States. I have no doubt that Confederate soldiers and officers fought valiantly and honorably. But I do take exception to the group’s efforts to conflate the Confederacy and its battle flag as symbols of pride.

When the Texas state government chose to join the Confederacy in 1861, it issued a Declaration of Causes that underlined the Confederate raison d’etre: “A commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits.”

The battle flag’s defenders maintain that the Confederacy should still be recognized as a worthy aspect of Texas history. After all, they reason, one of the “Six flags over Texas” displayed at the Capitol is an official Confederacy flag, so why should it be excluded from license plates?

Yet for the sake of historicity, another of the six flags is Mexico’s. It’s not inconceivable to imagine an outcry if the Mexican flag were emblazoned on a Texas license plate. As the Confederacy stood for exclusion and anti-U.S. militancy, this license plate is patently inappropriate.

The veterans group and its supporters are free to display the Confederate battle flag or representations of it in their cars, homes, clothes or any private property of their choosing. Although I detest what I see as historical revisionism on the part of the group, they certainly are free to exercise their First Amendment rights as they please.

But when the group requests the state government to produce license plates to represent it, that license plate then defines a fiduciary relationship between the group and Texas taxpayers such as myself. Sensible Texans should not accept de jure state recognition of the veterans group and its views. No German government would consent to license plates with Nazi swastikas, even if neo-Nazi groups could point to parallels of “heritage” and pride in their ancestors’ actions. The Confederate ideology is a blight to all Texans and the license board should reject this plate.

Quazi is a nursing graduate student.