(UPDATED June 28, 2018 – See “disgusting” response and notice of appeal at end of article.)
A federal judge today threw out a claim against a Mississippi city over the local government’s decision to fly the state flag.
Mississippi is the only remaining Southern state to still incorporate the Confederate battle symbol in their state flag, an issue that is the topic of hot debate and, for some reason, the small coastal city of Ocean Springs has become the flash-point of the drama.
Earlier this year, a group called Mississippi Rising Coalition led a lawsuit against the city, claiming its mayor and Board of Alderman violated provisions of the FHA and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The controversy began shortly after the election of Mayor Shea Dobson, a young Republican who unseated a Democrat who held office for over a decade. Dobson made good on a campaign promise to raise the state flag at city hall, causing a stir with a small portion of the city’s population. Prior to Dobson’s action the flag flew at most municipal locations, just not at city hall.
After ongoing protests at city board meetings and pressure from Mississippi Rising, Dobson lowered the flag and placed the decision in the hands of the city’s local representatives. The Board of Alderman passed two resolutions regarding the flag. The first, a resolution to permanently fly the state flag of Mississippi at all municipal buildings, regardless of the flag’s design. The second was a resolution to send a letter to the governor telling him about the controversy and urging him to hold a statewide vote on whether or not a new flag should be adopted.
Since the passing of the the resolutions, Mississippi Rising has organized protests at almost every board meeting. One after another, speakers lambaste city officials, often calling their actions racist or in support of white supremacy.
Mississippi Rising president Lea Campbell was named as one of several plaintiffs in the suit against the city. Campbell claimed in court pleadings she was damaged because her protests of the state flag led to her receiving threats and “because the city’s actions deter non-white individuals from residing in the city and therefore deny her the opportunity to
live in a more integrated and diverse community.”
U.S. District Court Judge Louis Guirola Jr. granted the city’s motion to dismiss all claims. His ruling stated, “None of the plaintiffs here have alleged or articulated any facts tantamount to denial of equal treatment… they allege only harm related to exposure to the Mississippi flag. Thus, they have failed to allege an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing.”
Dobson told the Mississippi Press, “It’s a shame that, what is in reality a political attack, brought taxpayers into it by putting them on the hook for the legal fees.” He said he was glad the judge had the common sense to see through this “political stunt.”
Campbell said, “We knew when we filed it it may not succeed. So, obviously I’m disappointed, but we will move forward from here.” Last month, in an interview with the newspaper, Campbell weighed in on the possibility the judge would dismiss the case. “The legal avenue is just one tool in the toolbox,” she said.
In 1894, the committee to design a new Mississippi state flag was appointed by legislative action. The committee recommended for the flag “one with width two-thirds of its length; with the union square, in width two-thirds of the width of the flag; the ground of the union to be red and a broad blue saltier thereon, bordered with white and emblazoned with thirteen (13) mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding with the number of the original States of the Union; the field to be divided into three bars of equal width, the upper one blue, the center one white, and the lower one extending the whole length of the flag, red–the national colors.”
Mississippians voted on whether or not to keep the flag flying in a 2001 statewide referendum. Sixty-five percent of voters favored keeping the flag as is.
UPDATE: June 27, 2018
Following the dismissal of the Mississippi Rising lawsuit, group president Lea Campbell expressed her disappointment by posting a life-like cartoon depicting Mayor Dobson and six of the seven Board of Alderman members wearing KKK robes and hats.
We have chosen not to share the image, but several media outlets have displayed the image on their websites. Dobson expressed his disappointment to WXXV Fox 25. “We need to ask why this group is getting such a platform locally and why people want to keep giving extremists an avenue to attack our community,” he said.
Reactions on Facebook were emotional, with several calling the act “disgusting.”
The mayor and Board say they are exploring their legal options.
UPDATE: June 28, 2018
On Tuesday, the Board of Alderman voted to pursue legal fees in the failed case. Mississippi Rising, along with the individual plaintiffs, filed notice of intent to appeal Judge Guirola’s decision to grant the City’s motion for dismissal on Thursday. The appeal will address the dismissal of the Federal Housing Act portion of the suit.