ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A federal judge has temporarily denied action on a request from two men who had sought to display the Confederate battle flag in Saturday’s Old Soldiers Day Parade in downtown Alpharetta.
The two men, Richard Leake and Michael Dean, filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday seeking an injunction against the City of Alpharetta for refusing to allow the Roswell Mills Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans from displaying the flag in the annual parade.
The city responded by arguing there have been documented cases in recent years of violence associated with the flag’s display from supporters and opponents. The city said the group was welcome to join in the procession but could not display the emblem.
In his Friday ruling, Judge William M. Ray II said weighing concerns over safety against the right to free speech requires more than a snap decision.
“The case at hand involves complex Constitutional issues that deserve ample consideration given the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States has issued numerous nuanced opinions considering the Free Speech Clause and a government’s right to restrict speech,” Ray wrote in his decision.
The judge also pointed out that while the parade was originally organized as a tribute to Civil War veterans it has since evolved into an event that “honors all war veterans, especially those from Alpharetta, who have defended the rights and freedoms enjoyed by everyone in the United States of America.”
In a footnote, Ray said he found it ironic that Confederate soldiers who fought for secession are part of a parade that honors soldiers who fought in support of United States.
Nevertheless, the judge was not dismissive of the group’s free speech claim.
“While the court is not ready to issue an injunction at this time, that is not to say one may not be issued in the future,” Ray wrote. “The court has real concerns over the defendants’ position, and should an injunction later issue, such an order could also include an award of damages and/or attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs, should the plaintiffs prevail on the merits of their claim.”
Alpharetta officials issued a statement late Friday hailing the court decision.
“The City of Alpharetta is, of course, pleased with today’s ruling that the city is not required to allow the Confederate battle flag to be carried in the Old Soldiers’ Day Parade,” the statement read. “We are looking forward to tomorrow’s parade and to focusing on the fabric of Alpharetta and the many things that unite us as a very special community.”