Court case. Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore has ruled that the City of Charlottesville cannot remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The judge determined that these are war memorials protected under Virginia state law. Articles describing the decision can be found here, here and here. As the Roanoke Times writes …
“The Monument Fund filed suit in March 2017, claiming the Charlottesville City Council in 2016 violated a state code section that bans the removal of war memorials when it voted to remove the statue of Lee. The suit was later amended to also include the Jackson statue.
The defense recently has focused on the question of whether the statues constitute monuments. Recent motions by the defense have sought to have a jury make the determination.”
Dillon’s Rule. Virginia has a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule. This means that a high percentage of political power within the Commonwealth of Virginia rests with the state government rather than the localities. This political philosophy has been used by the state to micromanage localities for decades. One example is a section of Virginia law titled, “Memorials for War Veterans”. The law allows localities to construct memorials for war veterans but not to remove those same memorials. This section of Virginia code was the basis for the suit over the two statues in Charlottesville.
Controversy. Opinions across Virginia are divided over whether memorializing the Civil War, the Confederacy and/or Confederate combatants represents historical preservation or the racist philosophy of those who erected the statues. Judge Moore doesn’t care so far as the law is concerned. As Judge Moore wrote in his opinion,
“I believe that defendants have confused or conflated 1) what the statues are with 2) the intentions or motivations of some involved in erecting them, or the impact that they might have on some people and how they might make some people feel. But that does not change what they are.”
Don Gathers, who chaired a blue ribbon committee to study the question of Confederate statues in Charlottesville disagrees. He said, “Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s right or it’s moral. I’m fearful what this has done is given the vile evilness that descended upon us in August of 2017 to come back.”
Commentary. Judge Moore seems clearly correct in his interpretation of the law. Lee and Jackson are depicted in military uniforms so it’s hard to understand how these are not war memorials. However, that is a minor point compared to the larger moral and philosophical issues at play. First, Virginia does not honor the historical memory of the U.S. Civil War. That would require statues of people like Virginian George Thomas, a U.S. Army general at the outbreak of the Civil War who fought with distinction for the Union. Virginia’s focus is clearly on the Confederacy rather than the Civil War overall or even the role of Virginians in the Civil War. This singular focus on the losing side, which clearly had the preservation of slavery as one of its goals is immoral. Telling the whole historical story could be seen as instructive while telling only one side is not. Second, the General Assembly of Virginia continues to operate more like a politburo than a reasonable state government. What possible place does the General Assembly have in telling the City of Charlottesville what statues it must display when those statues can only be seen from within the city?
— Don Rippert.There are currently no comments highlighted.