Confederate flag on Georgia specialty license tag

Gov. Nathan Deal says release of new plate surprised him

Published On: Feb 19 2014 10:08:16 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 19 2014 10:10:00 AM EST

Georgia officials have once again approved a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, infuriating civil rights advocates and renewing a debate among those who believe the symbol honors Confederate heritage and others who see it as racially charged.

The Georgia division of The Sons of Confederate Veterans requested the new plate. Its old one had a small Confederate battle flag. The new one features an additional, larger image in the background that covers the entire plate.

A group spokesman says it means no offense and people have a right to commemorate their heritage.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesman Maynard Eaton tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state shouldn't have sanctioned the move and calls displaying the emblem "reprehensible."

Gov. Nathan Deal says he was unaware of the plate.

In Florida, the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit two years ago after the Legislature and the Department of Motor Vehicles didn't approve a similar plate. A federal judge ruled that it was protected by free speech, but the order did not completely clear the way for the license plate to be created. The group still needed lawmakers to sign off on it.