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Free speech and Texas' Confederate-themed license plates

To the editor: As your editorial notes, finding the Confederate flag repugnant is easy, but articulating a legally coherent way to keep it off specialty license plates is another matter. ("Supreme Court errs on Texas' Confederate-themed license plates," editorial, June 19)

Texas rejected the specialty-plate application from the Sons of Confederate Veterans because the Confederate flag offends “a significant portion of the public.” But Texas, like several other Bible-belt states, allows the Christian cross and mention of “God” on its specialty plates.

What will happen when the American Humanist Assn. applies for plates bearing its motto, “Good Without a God”? Or when Wiccans want plates displaying their faith's pentacle? No doubt many Christian Texans will be offended by symbols of atheistic or polytheistic belief systems. But shouldn't nonbelievers be entitled to their own plates as a matter of religious freedom?

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed, hard cases make bad law. With the high court's dubious license plate decision, look for endless free-speech litigation until states finally stop offering mobile billboards.

Edward Alston, Santa Maria

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To the editor: Your interpretation of the Confederate flag is much too benign for my tastes.

License plates are produced by the government to keep track of vehicles. Texas has decided to allow certain forms of expression on license plates for the purpose of raising revenue.

License plates were not designed for free expression, so Texas could end all such forms of expression tomorrow and no one could claim that this is a violation of free speech. Public parks and other public gathering places, on the other hand, must allow free expression.

Thus, this crucial distinction is sufficient for the courts to use in order to avoid what could be a very onerous result.

If the Texas decision were to be reversed, what would stop the next group from asking that a swastika be part of its license plates? Besides, if a group wishes to advertise its affiliation to a particular cause, there are bumper stickers for that purpose.

Free speech is not an absolute right. There are numerous exceptions and restrictions on expressing oneself.

Steve Codron, West Hills

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