California Ban on Confederate Flag: The End of Free Speech?

California Governor, Jerry Brown, has an important document to sign this week after the state’s Legislature passed a bill that bans the sale and display of the Confederate flag. If Gov. Brown signs off on the bill, California state agencies would be prohibited from selling or donning the flag on state property, though the bill does not include the display of the flag in an educational setting. Many people welcome the recent legislation as long overdue, however some object to the bill on the grounds that it impedes First Amendment rights of free speech or that it misunderstands the symbology of the flag.

Last week the bill passed the Assembly almost unanimously in a 66-1 bipartisan vote. The single nay vote came from Republican Tim Donnelly (Twin Peaks), former GOP gubernatorial candidate and current representative of the 33rd Assembly district. Donnelly explained his objection to the bill quite simply, stating, “I’m a strict Constitutionalist.” The assemblyman continued by saying that he does not defend or condone the symbol. Rather, his concern is that the First Amendment should not apply unilaterally; it should extend to all state buildings.

The bill, AB-2444, was introduced by Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton), and filed after Hall’s mother saw a replica of the Confederate flag being sold at the state capitol in Sacramento. Hall described the flag as emblematic of fear and oppression, stating, “Even today its public display is designed to instill fear, intimidation and a direct threat of violence toward others.”

The bill that sits, awaiting signature, upon the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown has sparked a conversation that has been no stranger to First Amendment dialogue. In particular, AB-2444 can be interpreted as a form of government expression that conflicts with the rights and beliefs of some of its people.

35-Star American Flag

According to Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael, CA First Amendment Coalition, it is possible that some people might consider the protection of government expression in this case to be a violation of their First Amendment rights. Scheer explained that this view is based on “the theory that citizens are associated, against their will, with an official point of view with which they strongly disagree.”

Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag circa 1861-1863

AB-2444 bans the sale and display of the Confederate Battle Flag, which is to be distinguished from the flag of the Confederacy or national flag. The original Confederate flag of the 1860s, the “Stars and Bars,” bore a striking resemblance to the U.S. flag, and as such caused much confusion on the battlefield. The first flag of the Confederacy was thereon replaced on the battlefield by the Battle Flag, while the Stars and Bars remained the national symbol of the Confederacy.

Today, however, the Battle Flag has become the archetype of the Confederacy, the south and a loosely or ambiguously defined southern culture. Constructively, it represents a heritage. Destructively, the flag has been co-opted by many organizations that have since recast its meaning. Most notable co-opts have been by the Klu Klux Klan and the anti-integration group, the Dixiecrats. Regardless of what some argue as a reverse reappropriation of the meaning of the Confederate flag, its image in the present context has been bound to a racist and oppressive ideology.

Confederate Battle Flag circa 1861

The swastika is a similar symbol that has taken on different meanings over time. In Hinduism and Buddhism the equilateral cross was a symbol of well-being and good luck. Later co-opting of the swastika came to recast it as symbol of the Aryan race. After a horrific chapter of history, the swastika has had a difficult time disassociating from oppression and racial warfare. That said, there is an important difference in the case of the Confederate flag: it is not a cross-cultural phenomenon and as such, questions of “original meaning” are much more difficult to detach from the flag’s subsequent co-opting in recent collective memory.

What began as a discussion by California legislators may find its justification among anthropologists, however the ultimate fate of the bill rests with California Gov. Jerry Brown. In light of the near-unanimous passing of the bill in the Assembly, many are confident that the Governor will sign off on it. Regardless, the issue itself is liable to spark interesting discussions regarding free speech and the symbolic nature of the Confederate flag.

Opinion by Courtney Anderson

LA Times 1
LA Times 2
California Legislative Information
The Elm

9 Responses to "California Ban on Confederate Flag: The End of Free Speech?"

  1. Jeannie Ravnell   July 12, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Look up govenor jerry brown in california. Everybody cries obamba. Aug. 27, 2014. Govenor Brown banned the convederate flag and took away our freedom of speech. If we would study what the states as a whole are doing maybe we would fiqure out what bullcrap is coming next. Congress knows that obama is between a rock and a hardplace and they can make him look responsible for everything. I am not saying he is clean but I do think he is made to look dirty on more then he actually is. When God , prayer and pledge of Allegenge out of school is when we started going down hill . I do believe that was happening before obama
    Wake up please people before there is no longer a choice for us on anything

  2. cowgirl   September 1, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    If that is a fact then i dont want to see the damn mexican flad hanging in the U.S this is America, not mexico. And second if you dont like it walk away from it. Do take it fro, the ppl who have a right to speak our mind. I have one tattooed on me and a flag hanging.. right next to the U.S flag. Some ppl dont like the stupid president but we cant do nothing about it. They are trying to take our rights away. I have about had it with this place. We need to stand as one and fight back. Im not going to stand here and let them screw us like they have been,

  3. Jim Hughes   September 1, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    I have one Great Grand Father and 2 Great Great Grand Fathers that fought for the Confederacy. To me the flag is part of my heritage. They were poor dirt farmers and must have had a reason beyond slavery to have gone to war.

  4. Vann Hoover Jr   August 30, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Stupid lawmakers? Promote your constituents to educate themselves on the full history of flag symbols instead of erasing history for some extra votes. Don’t promote ignorance in the place of the truth. Is is 2014, not 1861. Today I pledge allegiance to the current US American Flag as riddled with atrocities as it is historically. Get a better life if you have sense enough.

  5. Diane   August 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Daniel, in you reference to legalized slavery in the Confederate Constitution here are the facts if you did your homework…. The Confederate Constitution basically mirrored the original Constitution however stated that slavery would be further prohibited. Not in those word but look it up…..if you want to ban a flag ban the US flag which all African slaves were brought over on US ships to Northern ports by Northern slave merchants. The early wealth of the North was built off of slave profits. The Confederate Battle flag is designed from the Christian cross of St. Andrew. Please stop drinking the revisionist history Kool-aid.

  6. Daniel   August 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    AB-2444 in no way impinges on the citizenry’s right to buy, sell or display the flag. As for the flags (either Confederate or Battle Flag) and all the romanticized rhetoric about what they actually represent, the ambiguity of their meanings can be easily cleared up…simply read the Confederate documents of State that the flags represent. (that’s what flags are)
    For instance, read the Confederate Constitution and compare it to the US Constitution. Notice how the organizing principles of each document are almost identical in every way, with only one real difference between them…the Confederate Constitution includes the provision for legalized slavery.
    So, if both States are organized identically with the only difference being legalized Slavery in the Confederate Constitution…then, according to my own standards of inquiry (the only ones that matter) these flags represent what the documents stipulate…SLAVERY!!! Derp, it’s all right there in black and white.

  7. Michele   August 28, 2014 at 10:12 am

    This is ridiculous! California politics is ridiculous. Southern culture is apart of our country…and a good part..the Dukes of Hazard must be banned from TV next.. California ostensibly so unamerican. I love the weather but the politics are closer to that of Mexico. Ihave lived in many states 13 years in Cali, and am not surprised. I would be more surprised if they banned the ISIS or Mexican flag

  8. Hal Tiberius Horton   August 28, 2014 at 7:27 am

    The story said that it will be illegal for State agencies to sell or display the flag. Does that mean that it only applies to State Gubmit facilities and not private citizens in Calif? If so, it sounds like this article is just more typical misleading reporting designed to stir hatred just to sell headlines.

  9. David McCallister   August 28, 2014 at 5:58 am

    The premise that the flag, “Even today its public display is designed to instill fear, intimidation and a direct threat of violence toward others.” is an outright lie. Mr. Hall is a Confederophobe who is using his mother as an excuse. If she doesn’t like a reproduction of Confederate money- don’t buy it for her. Surely he is not really foolish enough to think that the souvenir shop is trying to instill fear, intimidate and threaten violence. Is Gov. Brown that foolish? I feel sorry for California – state of fools.


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