Georgia officials have once again approved a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, infuriating civil rights advocates and renewing a debate among those who believe the symbol honors Confederate heritage and those who see it as racially charged.
The Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans requested the new plate design, and the Georgia Department of Revenue recently approved it. The group's old plate had a small Confederate battle flag. The new one features an additional, larger image in the background that covers the entire plate.
Spokesman Ray McBerry said the group meant no offense and views the plates as a way for people to honor their heritage. "We believe that everyone has the right to preserve their heritage," he said. "Southerners have as much right to be proud of their heritage as anybody else."
Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesman Maynard Eaton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state shouldn't have sanctioned the move. "To display this is reprehensible," Eaton said. "We don't have license plates saying `Black Power.'"
Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday that he was unaware of the plate."I hadn't heard that, so I don't know anything about it," Deal said. "I'll have to talk to them about it. I had no information in advance about it."
Later, in a TV interview, Deal said, "It is one of many specialty plates that we have that are supportive of a variety of organizations and causes, so I don't think that it is something that we should be so concerned about. Hopefully those who take offense at it will look at the fact that it is a part of a cultural heritage of our state."
States that joined the Confederacy have taken different positions on the battle flag.
North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have specialty license tags that include it, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Texas rejected an application to issue one on the grounds that it could offend some. The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued board members of the Texas motor vehicle agency, and the case remains in court.
In Georgia, the Department of Revenue's motor vehicle division approves proposed designs for specialty plates. Agency spokesman Nick Genesi said the old design included the Confederate battle emblem and that organizations with existing plates were allowed to submit new designs since the state switched to a new type of flat, digitally-printed plate.
Genesi said any submitted designs must not violate copyright laws.
The plates are available for an initial cost of $80, of which $10 is directed to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The group on its website says the funds will be used to promote Southern heritage through educational activities and preservation efforts around the state.
Right Wing Watch, an watchdog campaign, says Sons of Confederate Veterans has a history of racism and has said "there is no difference between the invasion of France by Hitler and the invasion of the Southern states by Lincoln."