On April 19th, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) answered the lawsuit brought against the NAACP South Carolina Conference of Branches by South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon concerning the organization's right to continue its "border patrols" at eight of the state's Interstate Highway Welcome Centers. The NAACP's answer, filed by the Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson law firm of Rock Hill, S.C., alleges that the NAACP's activity constitutes protected free speech and is lawful.
Kweisi Mfume, NAACP President & CEO, said today at a South Carolina press conference: "The lawsuit against the NAACP ignores the rule of law and challenges the basic freedoms we all enjoy. The State of South Carolina has never contended that the NAACP has violated any law. South Carolina's state agencies with jurisdiction over this welcome center have not challenged our activities. They do not necessarily support what we are doing, but they have recognized our constitutional right to state our message."
Condon's lawsuit, filed in March, attempted to stop the demonstrators who are conducting "border patrols" and picketing at the welcome centers because he has said that welcome centers are not public property where people should be allowed to speak. The NAACP contends in today's response that Condon's position amounts to "a content-based restriction on speech in violation of the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of South Carolina."
Mfume said: "There is no legal prohibition for what we're doing, and Attorney General Condon is simply without authority to bring this legal action. South Carolina uses buildings at the welcome centers to distribute its own information and the brochures of private companies, and in some instances, those that promote the Confederate history. The NAACP cannot constitutionally be prohibited from using this same public forum to air its own views regarding South Carolina's hospitality and tourism industry."
The NAACP has also maintained that demonstrators do not discourage travelers from using the welcome centers to rest during their travels or otherwise interfere with vehicular traffic. The NAACP has worked with the appropriate South Carolina agencies to ensure the safety of motorists and visitors to the welcome centers and will continue to do so.
The NAACP began economic sanctions against South Carolina in 2000 after the state legislature refused to remove the flag from a position of sovereignty on public grounds. The Confederate Flag and the Confederate Battle Flag are vestiges of a regime that took up arms against the U.S. government to preserve slavery, which is indisputably one of the cruelest crimes against humanity. The NAACP is committed to engaging in legal protests of South Carolina that are permissible and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment protects precisely the kind of protest and boycott in which we have engaged.
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