Washington, D.C. – The Center for Individual Rights reached a settlement with the Attorney General of California this week that guarantees the Attorney General will not use California Code section 8195 to stifle legitimate First Amendment speech. The state of California previously attempted to ban artist Timothy Desmond from displaying one of his paintings at the 2015 Big Fresno Fair because it depicted a Civil War battle scene, complete with confederate flag. The state justified its flag ban by arguing that California Code Section 8195 – which prohibits the state from displaying the Confederate flag on public property – could be applied to the speech and actions of individual citizens.
The Center for Individual Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of Desmond that argued the flag ban was an unconstitutional limit on Desmond’s free speech rights. The lawsuit sparked a wave of media coverage that rebuked California’s actions. The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board endorsed Desmond’s suit and called California’s flag ban “absurd.”
In response to CIR’s suit, the state of California reversed course and agreed to let Desmond display his civil war painting at the 2016 Big Fresno Fair. The California Attorney General claimed the ban on Desmond’s painting was due to a “mistake.” However, Desmond and CIR continued the suit, seeking assurances that Section 8195 would not be used in an unconstitutional manner again.
This week, the Attorney General agreed and entered a settlement that concedes “California Government Code section 8195 applies only to the State of California and not to private individuals… Section 8195 neither affects the rights of private individuals… nor authorizes the government to restrict the sale of a Confederate Flag or any similar images, by private individuals in a government forum.”
CIR President Terry Pell commented, “The First Amendment is clear: the state may not ban the expression of certain points of view simply because some find them distasteful. Freedom of speech involves costs, whether in the form of hurt feelings of those who are forced to listen or the cost of police necessary to protect against the riots that sometimes result.
Pell continued, “Today, some public officials wonder whether free speech deserves the heavy cost that is required to protect it. But we either protect speech or recognize that it is not truly free. The California Attorney General’s willingness to defend Desmond’s right to display his painting represents a refreshing commitment to the principle of free speech.”
The Center for Individual Rights is a non-profit public interest firm that specializes in civil rights, free speech, and other cases affecting individual rights. For more information visit CIR’s web site at https://www.cir-usa.org.