The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last night to push forward with an amendment to its unified development ordinance that would limit the size of flags and flagpoles across the county, although the measure must still go before a public hearing before being enacted.
The move came after a “Southern heritage” organization known as Alamance County Takes Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC, which is registered as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, indirectly threatened to place enormous Confederate flags along various routes throughout the county in retaliation for recent attacks on their ideology, including a ban on Confederate flags in Orange County public schools and calls to take down Silent Sam, a controversial Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill.
About a half dozen citizens backed the move. Among them, Maya Little, a doctoral candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill, argued that the Confederate flag promotes an ahistorical view of America’s past.
“This flag has nothing to do with Southern culture or heritage, and frankly, Southern culture deserves better than it,” Little insisted. “The flag, historically and today, serves to intimidate and threaten people of color and to promote an ahistorical understanding of the Civil War, of Jim Crow, of the last hundred and fifty years of our history.”
Commissioner Penny Rich offered support for those who spoke out. “When I think of the Confederate flag, I see it as a symbol of terrorism,” she explained. “We deserve more in Orange County.”
No one showed up to advocate against the amendment, although a few commissioners suggested that a public discussion that brought together people from both sides could be an important step before the final amendment is passed.
In order to maintain the right to free expression—and not to run afoul of the First Amendment—the UDO change must be content-neutral. That means the county can’t ban Confederate flags outright or prohibit their display on private property; the restrictions would apply to all flags.
The board commended residents for coming up with a rational and legal way to combat racism without infringing on the rights of those who wish to fly the Confederate flag on private property.
A public hearing, where the commissioners could potentially make a final decision, could be held as early as May 1.