OP-ED
From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

November 7, 2011
For Immediate Release
CONTACT:  Kelvin Bass, 214-467-0123

Citizens can also practice free speech at the next DMV board meeting

By Royce West
Texas Senate

Thousands of words have been written on this issue since it ignited headlines a few weeks ago. To remind, a proposal by a state official asks the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to approve a vanity license plate that bears the likeness of the Confederate battle flag. Some say its part of Texas' heritage. More say many don't want to be reminded of a painful period in Texas and American history, and what the same symbol means today when also carried proudly by those who wear hoods and robes.

I made my opinion known more than a month ago in an editorial that was seen across the state and nationally via social media and was even referenced by the Wall Street Journal. I was joined by my Senate Democratic colleagues and one fellow Dallas senator in urging the DMV board to oppose the creation of any state-sanctioned license plate that bears this divisive symbol. Editorial boards from Dallas to San Antonio, from Austin to Amarillo, Houston, Longview and Beaumont publications have resoundingly expressed the same opinion that the state should not endorse or promote an image considered - across racial lines - to be offensive and hurtful to most African Americans.

I would not raise this issue again but for the official announcement by the department that this item will be on the agenda for its next board meeting scheduled for Thursday - November 10. A single vote prevented the approval or rejection of this item back in April. At the time, Board Chairman Victor Vandergriff - one of four opposing votes - stated that the matter could be placed before the body again. Since that time, for every two or three who think that there's nothing wrong with license plates that depict the rebel flag, quadruple that number say the plates have no place in a diverse, 21st Century Texas. And just days ago, Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry said before national press that said the plates represent "wounds" that shouldn't be reopened.

While I will not debate First Amendment, free speech rights that we as Americans all enjoy, basic tenets supporting that same freedom also say that we do not have the right to yell fire in a crowded room. These freedoms are not absolute and do not carry with them the ability to cause harm to others. As a matter of fact, I urge those who have an opinion on this hot-button issue to also exercise their constitutional right to assemble by making their way to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board meeting to convene beginning at 9:00 a.m. in the John H. Reagan Building, Rm. 120 in Austin on Thursday.

Lastly, for those who hold a more wistful memory of the Confederate persona, there are reminders that history should remain in proper perspective. Analogous to this debate are more recent events of historical significance and global relevance. In Germany, displaying of the swastika, the emblem of a vanquished Nazi army is illegal and a similar ban is now being considered throughout Europe. On another continent, there are no state-approved celebrations of once state-sanctioned Apartheid. The reasons are the same. Human pain and misery are not causes for celebration in a civilized nation.

To share your opinion, you can call the Texas DMV toll-free at 1-888-368-4689 or follow instructions at www.txdmv.gov/ under "E-Mail Us."

For more information, contact Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123 or Quinn Ryan at 512-463-0123.

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