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NY Gov. Cuomo signs bill banning Confederate Flag sales on public ground

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo/TNS)
December 16, 2020

The Confederate flag and other symbols deemed “hate symbols” by a New York State legislative bill are now prohibited from being sold on New York public grounds after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law banning their sale while acknowledging the new regulation could go against First Amendment rights.

Effective immediately, the law bans “symbols of hate” from being sold or displayed on public property in the state, unless the image is on a book, digital medium, museum or serves an educational or historical purpose.

According to the law, the term “symbol of hate” is defined as symbols of white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.

While Cuomo did sign the bill, he said it will likely require “certain technical changes” so the State of New York doesn’t violate free speech rights established in the United States Constitution’s First Amendment.

“This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer,” Cuomo wrote in his approval message, the New York Post reported. “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.”

Cuomo went on to say that he fully supports “the spirit of this legislation,” but that some changes may be necessary “to balance the State’s interests in preventing the use of hate symbols on state land with free speech protections embodied in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer, said the law requires more than a “technical” fix.

“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,” Abrams told The New York Post.

A spokesman for the governor said his legal team plans to revisit the bill in conjunction with the state Legislature to consider an amendment.

“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,” said Maya Moskowitz, press secretary for state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the New York Democrat who sponsored the bill.