RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the city of Lexington on Thursday over its decision last year to ban the flying of the Confederate flag on city-owned light poles.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, argues that an ordinance limiting the type of flags that can be displayed on the light standards violates the constitutional free speech and due process rights of the Southern heritage group and a 1993 consent decree, which blocked the city's attempt to ban the display of the Confederate flag during a parade honoring Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
Jackson and another Confederate icon, Robert E. Lee, are buried in Lexington and both had strong ties to the city of approximately 7,000.
City officials adopted the ordinance in September after they received hundreds of complaints last January, when Confederate flags were planted in holders on light poles to mark Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in Virginia that falls on Friday.
The flags were provided by SCV, and the city authorized them to be flown on the city poles.
The SCV also paid for city workers to install the flags on approximately 40 poles.
The new ordinance, the first city policy on the placement of flags on city poles, states that only the city, Virginia and U.S. flags can be flown on downtown light poles. The ordinance does not limit other public displays of the Confederate flag within the city.
"The Sons assert that the ordinance was adopted due to the sole reason of the city's disapproval of the Sons' Constitutional rights to display historic Virginia state and Confederate flags," Brandon Dorsey, commander of the Stonewall Brigade of the SCV, said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed by a division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is headquartered in Columbia, Tenn. It names the city of Lexington, seven city council members and the city manager, T. Jon Ellestad. Ellestad referred questions to the city's attorney, Larry Mann, who declined to comment until he could review the court filing.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans rallied supporters last September when the city conducted a hearing on the ordinance.
Opponents said it was an affront to the men who fought in the Civil War in defense of the South.
But many speakers complained that the flag was an offensive, divisive symbol of the South's history of slavery and shouldn't receive the city's tacit endorsement by allowing it to fly atop light poles.
The Confederate flag has been a lightning rod in the South, especially among black southerners who consider it a symbol of slavery.
The NAACP launched an economic boycott of South Carolina in 1999 about the Confederate flag that flew atop the Statehouse dome and in the chambers of the House and Senate.
A compromise in 2000 moved the flag to a monument outside the Statehouse. Dorsey has said the Lexington snub is particularly painful because of Lee's and Jackson's ties to the city. Jackson taught at VMI before the Civil War.
He became widely known as "Stonewall" after the first Battle of Manassas. Lee, who led Confederate forces during the Civil War before surrendering at Appomattox in 1865, became president of what is now Washington & Lee University.
Besides a spot on city light poles for Confederate flags, the lawsuit also seeks attorneys' fees and unspecified punitive damages.