By: Rob Harris
With politicians tripping over one another as they sprint to announce their opposition to the public display of the Confederate flag, it’s ironic–indeed, almost surreal–that on June 18, just hours before the South Carolina murders that caused this seismic shift in public opinion, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in a case that challenged Texas’ right to prohibit the display of the Confederate flag on license plates.
By a vote of 5-4, the Court narrowly held that Texas did not act unconstitutionally in denying the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ request for a specialty license plate design that featured the Confederate battle flag. The Court’s decision was based upon its conclusion that license plate messaging constitutes government speech which is subject to state regulation, as opposed to private speech which, as we all know, is protected by the First Amendment.
And what, pray tell, does this have to do with golf?
Well, for the four dissenting justices, the government / private speech distinction was hogwash. As the dissent argues:
“Here is a test. Suppose you sat by the side of a Texas highway and studied the license plates on the vehicles passing by. You would see, in addition to the standard Texas plates, an impressive array of specialty plates.(There are now more than 350 varieties.) You would likely observe plates that honor numerous colleges and universities.You might see plates bearing the name of a high school, a fraternity or sorority, the Masons, the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a realty company, a favorite soft drink, a favorite burger restaurant, and a favorite NASCAR driver.
“As you sat there watching these plates speed by, would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says “Rather Be Golfing” passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: “This is the official policy of the State—better to golf than to work?” …
“The Court says that all of these messages are government speech. It is essential that government be able to express its own viewpoint, the Court reminds us, because otherwise, how would it promote its programs, like recycling and vaccinations? So when Texas issues a “Rather Be Golfing” plate, but not a “Rather Be Playing Tennis” or “Rather Be Bowling” plate, it is furthering a state policy to promote golf but not tennis or bowling. And when Texas allows motorists to obtain a Notre Dame license plate but not a University of Southern California plate, it is taking sides in that long-time rivalry.”
If, indeed, the State of Texas is taking sides, far better that it should side in favor of golf, rather than tennis or bowling.