By Matthew Ward
PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (Reuters) - A group of descendants of Civil War soldiers who fought for the South sued a city in western Virginia on Thursday over a regulation that prevents them from flying Confederate flags.
The City of Lexington adopted the ordinance in September 2011, which only permits flying the American, Virginia state and Lexington city flags from downtown light poles.
The Lexington-based Stonewall Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the ban was sparked by its request in January 2011 to fly two different Confederate flags and an historic Virginia flag for Lee-Jackson day. The city denied the request.
Confederate commanders Thomas Donovan "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee are both buried in Lexington.
The Stonewall Brigade argues in a lawsuit filed in Roanoke federal court on Thursday that their constitutional free expression rights have been violated.
"When someone says 'we're not going to allow you to express yourself because we don't like what you have to say,' that's a subjective determination, and that's not allowable under the First Amendment," Brigade Commander Brandon Dorsey said.
The group wants Lexington to overturn the ban and be fined, according to Dorsey, an amount "substantial enough to make the city think twice" in future.
Lexington City Manager Jon Ellestad, said the flag ban intended to stop the light poles from being used as a public forum and reserve them for city use only.
"Much of the complaint we received from the community was the perception by a number of people that the Confederate flag is associated with slavery, and they did not want to have the community portrayed that way," Ellestad said.
But Dorsey says associating the Confederate flag with slavery misrepresents what the Civil War was fought for. "There was a lot more to the Civil War than slavery," he said.
(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Dan Burns)