Fort Smith Attorney Joey McCutchen has filed suit against the city of Van Buren, Mayor Joe Hurst and the Old Town Merchants Association in Van Buren for violating the First Amendment free speech rights of Sons of the Southern Cross and its president James Bible.
Sons of the Southern Cross is an Arkansas nonprofit corporation and confederate heritage association that promotes southern heritage. The suit, filed in the U.S. Western District Court in Fort Smith, arises from the banning of a float in the Van Buren Christmas Parade because it displayed a Confederate Flag.
According to the suit, exclusion of the float was at the direction of Hurst. The plaintiffs, McCutchen said, have participated in the Christmas parade for about 11 years. In the suit McCutchen states Bible contacted the Old Town Merchants Association three times to confirm that his float with a Confederate Flag on it would be permitted in the parade and was told it would be. The float Bible sought to put in the parade had a Christmas theme with a manger with a large white cross. “Under One God” was displayed on the float, as was the Confederate Flag.
The float was to be located on Main Street in Van Buren during the city’s Dec. 12 “Reverse Christmas Parade,” which had floats remain stationary because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions. However, once the parade was brought to the parade and put in its place, Hurst, acting in his official capacity as mayor, decided it would not be allowed with the Confederate Flag displayed, the suit states.
The rules for the parade, McCutchen says in the suit, stated, “No flags, other than the American flag, or any discriminatory items, sayings, etc., should be present on your float. This parade is about CHRISTMAS.” However, McCutchen states that flags are a matter of free speech.
“In today’s environment, there is probably nothing more controversial than the Confederate Flag,” McCutchen said in a news release. “It stirs powerful emotions of those on both sides of the issue. A government official does not have the right to tell any American what they can think, say, write, or display unless it falls within very limited exceptions. The Courts have clearly said that flags are symbolic speech.”
The suit asks for judgment against the defendants, with the exception of the Old Town Merchants Association, for the plaintiff’s legal costs as well as a permanent injunction against all defendants from ever prohibiting displays of the Confederate flag or other flags in the future.
Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst did not respond to request from Talk Business & Politics for a comment.