Lexington was witness to an interesting display yesterday: a rally for the Confederate flag. That day the city council voted 4–1 to ban flags from public light posts, possibly suggestive of the council’s attitude toward public property in general.
Now, i have negligible affection for Union or Confederate derivatives of the Union Jack and negligible interest in the extent to which the flags represents slavery, freedom, racism, equality, heritage, autonomy, or anything else. As with any symbol, organizations and individuals will use it as they see fit. The issue concerns me precisely insofar as it addresses the distinction between individual freedom of expression and government endorsement. Quoth the Roanoke Times:
The ordinance does not prohibit people from carrying the Confederate or other flags or displaying them from private property — a reality cited by many people who supported the ordinance’s adoption.
I would be shocked to find that the rallyers did not invoke personal liberty and claim that their local government was infringing upon it. Such banter manifests over environmental initiatives and even works its way into school board meetings.
But there is a meaningful question here: To what extent should public property be accessible to people seeking expression to a broader audience? The most obvious consequence of closing off light posts to all but city, state, and national emblems is that even state-supported universities are except from the privilege:
But it does effectively ban the display of flags of the Confederacy and others that have previously flown from city light poles — including flags of Virginia Military Institute and of Washington and Lee University.
Churches and nonreligious groups would also be refused. This contrasts with the (generally) open access to advertising on public transportation, but it nonetheless illustrates equal access.
Is one approach superior to the other, in the sense of facilitating better communication and understanding across ideological divides? Does it depend on what public property or service is being leased? This is a question i’ll nurse as the rallies and legal battles ensue.