Confederate flags, swastikas and other ‘hate symbols’ have been banned at state buildings and events in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill into law.
The law, which is effective immediately, is intended to counter the spread of racist and anti-Semitic behavior and ideology, which Cuomo called an ‘American cancer’.
Public display of the symbols will only be permitted if in an educational or historical context.
But Constitutional experts have raised concerns that it may be struck down for violating the First Amendment.
The Confederate flag, first adopted by the Confederate states in 1861 during the American Civil War, is seen by many as a symbol of white nationalism.
New York is the latest state to make changes in the area of social justice following the death of the unarmed black man George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis in May, sparking a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the US.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, pictured on December 14, has signed a new bill banning ‘hate symbols’ like the Confederate flag and swastika from being sold or displayed on state property, except when done in an educational or historical context
Activist Jovi Val holds a confederate flag during a rally in support of President Donald Trump near Trump Tower in Manhattan on March 23, 2019
The Confederate flag is adopted by many Americans as a symbol of white nationalism, including the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), seen here carrying Confederate flags during an undated demonstration in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. They are protesting against the Martin Luther King holiday
The Nazis, pictured here at the Brunswick rally circa 1933, adopted the swastika as a symbol of anti-Semitism and fascism, during the Second World War
Following the bill signing on Wednesday, Cuomo, said: ‘This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer’, as reported in The New York Post.
He continued: ‘By limiting the display and sale of the confederate flag, Nazi swastika and other symbols of hatred from being displayed or sold on state property, including the state fairgrounds, this will help safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols.’
He added that ‘certain technical changes’ might be necessary to avoid infringing on US citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of speech, as protected by the First Amendment.
A video grab shows a Confederate flag, right, displayed alongside a Colonial-era American flag and an Israeli banner in the windows of an apartment in the East Village of Manhattan
Constitutional legal expert Floyd Abrams, pictured discussing freedom of speech at The City Club of Cleveland in 2017, has said that Gov Cuomo may face a legal battle on First Amendment grounds
Floyd Abrahms, a noted First Amendment lawyer, said that Cuomo may be facing a longer battle rather than a swift, ‘technical’ fix.
He said: ‘Governor Cuomo is correct that the First Amendment may require changes in the law in light of the First Amendment. A private entity can choose to sell or not sell offensive symbols but when the government bans the sale of offensive, but constitutionally protected symbols, on its property the First Amendment comes into play.’
A Cuomo spokesman said the governor’s legal team will be reviewing the bill in consultation with the state Legislature to make a possible amendment.
Maya Moskowitz, press secretary of bill sponsor state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, said; ‘There’s going to be a chapter amendment that limits the prohibitions at the state fair, to ensure that we are respecting the protections that the Supreme Court has recognized for individuals and vendors at state fairs to exercise their First Amendment rights.’
Last month Mississippi revealed a new design for its state flag which was the last one in the nation that included a Confederate symbol.
In July General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a de-facto ban of the symbol on all US military bases, calling it ‘divisive’.
President Trump later defended the flag as a proud symbol of the South.
History of the Confederate flag
The Confederate flag was first issued in 1861 by the Confederate states during the American Civil War
During the American Civil War (1861–65), according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Confederate States of America began to use its first flag, the Stars and Bars, on March 5, 1861.
But after the First Battle of Bull Run, when similarity between the Stars and Bars and the Union Stars and Stripes made it difficult for troops to distinguish friend from foe, Confederate commanders petitioned for a new flag.
In November 1861 the first Confederate Battle Flags were issued.
The most-common design, known as the Southern Cross’, featured a blue saltire (diagonal cross), trimmed with white, with 13 white stars—representing the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Missouri and Kentucky—on a field of red.
After the war the Confederate Battle Flag became the most recognizable symbol of the Confederate States of America.
Beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, many groups in the South challenged the practice of flying the Confederate Battle Flag on public buildings, including some state capitols.
Proponents of the tradition argued that the flag recalled Southern heritage and wartime sacrifice, whereas opponents saw it as a symbol of racism and slavery, making it inappropriate for public use.
Origins of the Swastika
According to Britannica Encyclopedia, the word swastika is actually derived from the Sanskrit ‘svastika,’ which means ‘conducive to well-being’.
While the symbol has been prominent in Nordic, Christian and Byzantine art, it is most prominently associated with India and the practice of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
The Jainas use it for their seventh Tirthankara (saint) and is said to be a symbol of rebirth.
An Indian woman seen drawing the holy sign of Swastika during the Ambubachi festival
Those that practice Hinduism use the swastika to mark the opening pages of their account books, thresholds, doors, and offerings
Those that practice Hinduism use the swastika to mark the opening pages of their account books, thresholds, doors, and offerings. They also have a distinction between which hand the swastika is on. The right-hand swastika is considered a solar symbol while the left-hand swastika more often stands for night and the goddess Kali.
The swastika symbolizes the footprints of Buddha for Buddhist. It is often used at both the beginning and ending of inscriptions.
It would be adapted by Germans, starting in 1910, when poet and nationalist Guido von List felt that it was a symbol for all anti-Semitic organizations. By 1919-20, the symbol would be adopted by the National Socialist Party. And by September 15, 1935, it would become the national flag of Germany.
While the symbol stopped being the national flag after WWII, many neo-Nazi groups still use it.
It would first be adapted by Germans in 1910, when poet and nationalist Guido von List felt that it was a symbol for all anti-Semitic organizations