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North Carolina sued to reverse decision to drop license plates with Confederate flag

FILE PHOTO: Jun 21, 2020; Talladega, AL, USA; Protesters of NASCAR banning the Confederate flag cruise down Speedway Blvd prior to the race on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a civil lawsuit on Monday against the state over its decision to stop issuing vehicle license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag.

The state’s Division of Motor Vehicles discontinued the specialty plates in January after more than 20 years of issuance, citing their potential offensive nature.

Frank Powell, a spokesman for the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said officials never discussed the move with the group or suggested any alternatives.

“They just cut us off without warning, after what, 23 years without a problem,’ Powell said.

Representatives for the DMV, which issues a range of specialty plates featuring the logos of clubs and non-profit groups, and the state attorney general’s office were not immediately available for comment.

The battle flag, carried by some soldiers of the Confederacy of Southern states who lost the American Civil War in the 1860s, is now viewed by many as a symbol of the legacy of slavery and racial segregation. But the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and other contemporary Southern groups say it is an emblem of their regional heritage.

A national movement to remove Confederate symbols picked up steam across the country after the 2015 shooting of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The convicted shooter was an avowed white supremacist who used the flag in his online postings.

More than 160 Confederate monuments and symbols were removed in 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, while NASCAR banned the flag from its events and properties.

“Any state that allows the Confederate battle flag to represent it on a specialty license plate, or in any public space for that matter, chooses to promote white supremacy over the ideals of an inclusive democracy,” the group said in a statement.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Jane Wardell