Court won’t re­open suit vs. Ocean Springs over state flag with Con­fed­er­ate em­blem

The Sun Herald - - News - BY EMILY WAGSTER PET­TUS

JACK­SON

A fed­eral ap­peals court is not re­viv­ing a law­suit that tried to block a Mis­sis­sippi city from fly­ing the state flag that in­cludes the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem.

The 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals this week af­firmed a dis­trict judge’s de­ci­sion that dis­missed the law­suit against Ocean Springs.

The law­suit called the flag “racially de­mean­ing and hos­tile” and claimed the city vi­o­lated the fed­eral Fair Hous­ing Act by fly­ing the flag and send­ing the mes­sage that black peo­ple are un­wel­come.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Louis Guirola Jr. ruled in June that plain­tiffs didn’t prove they suf­fered un­equal treat­ment by the Ocean Springs gov­ern­ment. A panel of three ap­peals court judges agreed Mon­day.

“The only act they al­lege is the City’s res­o­lu­tion re­quir­ing the Mis­sis­sippi state flag to be flown over pub­lic build­ings,” the ap­peals court judges wrote. “That is not a ‘dis­crim­i­na­tory hous­ing prac­tice’ as re­quired by the FHA, and plain­tiffs are there­fore not ‘ag­grieved per­sons’ un­der the statute.”

Ocean Springs didn’t fly the Mis­sis­sippi flag for sev­eral years un­der a pre­vi­ous mayor. Af­ter a new mayor took of­fice in July 2017, city of­fi­cials re­turned the flag to some mu­nic­i­pal build­ings.

The law­suit was filed in April by a non­profit group called the Mis­sis­sippi Ris­ing Coali­tion and by three lo­cal res­i­dents.

About 10 per­cent of Ocean Springs’ nearly 17,700 res­i­dents are black, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau. That com­pares to about 38 per­cent of Mis­sis­sippi’s nearly 3 mil­lion res­i­dents.

Mis­sis­sippi has used the same flag since 1894, with the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem in the up­per left cor­ner. Peo­ple who voted in a statewide elec­tion in 2001 chose to keep the flag. How­ever, sev­eral Mis­sis­sippi cities and coun­ties and all of the state’s pub­lic univer­si­ties have stopped fly­ing it in re­cent years amid crit­i­cism that the Con­fed­er­ate em­blem is a racist re­minder of slav­ery and seg­re­ga­tion. Sup­port­ers of the flag say it rep­re­sents his­tory.

Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols have been the sub­ject of wide­spread de­bate across the South, par­tic­u­larly since the 2015 killing of nine wor­ship­pers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and vi­o­lence in Au­gust 2017 when a white na­tion­al­ist rally took place in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia.

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