Group argues Confederate statue removals violate free speech

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed from the University of Texas campus, in Austin, Texas. Judges for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday Oct. 8, 2019, in the latest effort to counter the University of Texas' removal of several Confederate statues. In 2017, after violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., UT President Gregory L. Fenves authorized the removal of statues of Confederate figures — Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan — along with Gov. James Stephen Hogg from the UT South Mall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal court of appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the University of Texas’ removal of three Confederate statues from campus two years ago.

The Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the school after it removed the statues of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan after a white supremacist drove into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people. At the time, the university’s president called such monuments “symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

The lawyer for plaintiffs David McMahon and Steven Littlefield, who belong to the group made up of male descendants of Confederate soldiers, argued Tuesday before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the removal of the statues amounted to a violation of their free speech rights and breached an agreement the school made with Maj. George Washington Littlefield, who donated the statues in 1921.

“If you took every offensive monument out of Europe, their tourist industry would collapse,” said Kirk Lyons, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “These people are mentally unstable.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement after the hearing saying the plaintiffs lack the legal standing to challenge the school’s decision to remove or relocate the statues. A U.S. district judge dismissed the case in June 2018 also for the lack of legal standing.

The university didn’t respond to the Austin American-Statesman’s request for comment.

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