SANFORD, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans is suing the North Carolina Department of Transportation amid its decision to stop production of the Confederate battle flag on state license plates.
The complaint was filed in Lee County Superior Court on Monday.
A statement from the Sons of Confederate Veterans says members have rights and “deserve equal treatment under North Carolina law.”
“Our legally registered emblem represents our membership and our shared family history,” the statement by Commander R. Kevin Stone reads.
The DMV said it remains open to considering an alternative design and would resume issuing a specialty plate for Sons of Confederate Veterans members upon approval. But until such an agreement is made, it will “either issue SCV members standard plates and refund any specialty-plate fees paid or provide them with different specialty plates,” according to the statement.
The organization says it rejects NCDOT’s “demand” that they adopt a different emblem to represent them.
“We are legitimately entitled to use our group’s official emblem. The Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol of our heritage. Symbols can often have more than one meaning. To assume the Confederate battle flag is uniquely offensive is to validate only one viewpoint and thereby discriminate against others,” Stone said.
The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles announced in February that specialty license plates with the flag would no longer be issued.
The agency said removal of the license plate, issued to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, took effect Jan. 1, the StarNews of Wilmington reported. The move comes six months after NCDMV acknowledged it had received complaints about the Confederate battle flag appearing on a specialty license plate.
“The Division of Motor Vehicles has determined that license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag have the potential to offend those who view them,” the agency said in a statement. “We have therefore concluded that display of the Confederate battle flag is inappropriate for display on specialty license plates, which remain property of the state.”
NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott told CBS 17 on Monday that there were just about 2,500 Confederate-emblazoned plates in place as of Jan. 1.
Funds raised by specialty plates go to cover the cost of making the plates, plus helping fund state-run visitor centers plus the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, according to Abbott.
Abbott says NCDOT will not comment any further on ongoing legal matters.
NCDMV said it would continue to recognize the North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans as a civic organization entitled to a specialty plate, but the recognition does not entitle it to dictate the contents of the government speech on that plate.
“We just want to be treated like everyone else,” spokesman Frank Powell told CBS 17 over the phone.
Stone says it is “past time” for people to support the inclusion of “all Americans of all backgrounds and against those who would commit what amounts to cultural genocide against those they deem different from themselves.”
The DMV cites the ruling in the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Faulkner, a 1998 court case that saw the Confederate group sue the state for recognition as a civic organization that qualified for the issuance of a specialty plates. The Sons of Confederate Veterans won the case in a ruling upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, leading to the introduction of the Confederate battle flag plate.
In its statement, the NCDMV said it remains in accordance with the ruling, which it said does not extend to the actual contents of the specialty plate.
The NCDMV confirmed it had received complaints about plates bearing the Confederate flag in light of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.