The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week affirmed a district judge’s decision that dismissed the lawsuit against Ocean Springs.
The lawsuit called the flag “racially demeaning and hostile” and claimed the city violated the federal Fair Housing Act by flying the flag and sending the message that black people are unwelcome.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. ruled in June that plaintiffs didn’t prove they suffered unequal treatment by the Ocean Springs government. A panel of three appeals court judges agreed Monday.
“The only act they allege is the City’s resolution requiring the Mississippi state flag to be flown over public buildings,” the appeals court judges wrote. “That is not a ‘discriminatory housing practice’ as required by the FHA, and plaintiffs are therefore not ‘aggrieved persons’ under the statute.”
Ocean Springs didn’t fly the Mississippi flag for several years under a previous mayor. After a new mayor took office in July 2017, city officials returned the flag to some municipal buildings.
The lawsuit was filed in April by a nonprofit group called the Mississippi Rising Coalition and by three local residents.
About 10 percent of Ocean Springs’ nearly 17,700 residents are black, according to the Census Bureau. That compares to about 38 percent of Mississippi’s nearly 3 million residents.
Mississippi has used the same flag since 1894, with the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. People who voted in a statewide election in 2001 chose to keep the flag. However, several Mississippi cities and counties and all of the state’s public universities have stopped flying it in recent years amid criticism that the Confederate emblem is a racist reminder of slavery and segregation. Supporters of the flag say it represents history.
Confederate symbols have been the subject of widespread debate across the South, particularly since the 2015 killing of nine worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and violence in August 2017 when a white nationalist rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.