Dozens of Maryland senators and delegates called for the removal of Confederate Battle Flag license plates this week in light of the recent shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The 42 legislators sent the letter to Pete Rahn, Maryland transportation secretary, and Milton Chaffee, administrator for the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration.
The Charleston shooting, which officials are investigating as a hate crime, sparked debate across the country about the use of the “rebel flag.”
A Supreme Court decision, which came just one day after the shooting, ruled that states have the ability to limit government speech on license plates, meaning Maryland could potentially stop issuing these specialty plates despite lower courts permitting their use.
“Every symbol has multiple connotations, and not everyone who displays the flag means the same thing by it,” the officials wrote in the letter. “But there is no doubt that for millions of Marylanders, the Confederate battle flag’s meaning is reasonably and uniquely identified with the history of slavery, white supremacy, and racial violence.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, who is against the use of the flag on license plates, is working with the MVA and Attorney General Brian Frosh to make changes on this issue, according to a statement by spokesman Doug Mayer.
Debate about the plates, which display the small flag on the left side, began in the 1990s when the MVA decided to recall all Maryland license plates that had Confederate flags on them, said Delegate David Moon (D-20). Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers that strives to “preserve the history and legacy” of Southern soldiers, according to its website, then filed a lawsuit against Maryland. Soon after, the recall was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals “on free speech grounds in a decision now effectively overruled by the Supreme Court,” the letter explains, urging the MVA to reinstate its former policy that banned the issuing of these specialty license plates.
“The people of Maryland agreed almost 20 years ago that the Confederate flag is not appropriate,” Moon said. He said he views the Supreme Court decision as validating what state residents wanted to happen decades ago.
Moon also sent a letter to the Maryland Attorney General’s office asking for an opinion on the matter, but had not received a response as of June 24.