Palestine, Texas Chamber of Commerce Invites a Lawsuit
Palestine, a town in East Texas, has an annual event in the spring, put on by the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, called the Dogwood Trails Festival. For a number of years, the local John H. Reagan Camp of the SCV has participated with a booth on the event grounds, explaining their organization and looking to recruit new members. Not this year:
The Dogwood Trails Festival in downtown Palestine will have one less booth occupied this month now that organizers have denied a group they’re calling, “politically divisive.” The John H. Reagan Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans say they are both disappointed and confused by the city’s decision. A spokesperson for the group said they are a historical organization that honors all veterans of all wars. The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they’ll still participate in the Dogwood Trails Festival, just like they have in years past, but this year they’ll do it on their own property.
This is a pretty familiar story these days. Even in places like East Texas, there’s a lot of ambivalence about Confederate Heritage™, especially when (as in the case of the SCV) it’s represented by a Confederate Battle Flag. The CBF is “divisive,” for good reason, and other Confederate symbols have been the subject of considerable controversy there in recent years. I can understand Chamber of Commerce’s desire to avoid the issue altogether. Unfortunately, the board’s prepared statement explaining their decision makes their position much more difficult to defend:
The Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce is FOR building a stronger community. Our volunteers spend countless hours doing so. It is not in the community’s best interest to allow politically divisive groups to participate in the Dogwood Trails parade or to be a vendor at the Festival. We are charged with the responsibility to operate on behalf of the city of Palestine.
My emphasis. While the board members — who count among their number at least one attorney — may have meant the larger Palestine community, their statement suggests they’re operating as an extension of the city government, in which case they’re sunk, legally. As I outlined earlier, governmental entities can’t really pick and choose who they affiliate with in the same way that private groups can, and issuing a formal statement that you’re operating “on behalf of the city” is a good way to get yourself sued.
The Reagan Camp is one of the highest-profile, most active camps in the state, and it will be interesting to watch this case play out. #HeritageViolation is trending on Twitter, even as I type. Pass the popcorn.