Federal appeals court OKs removal of Confederate monument in Lakeland’s Munn Park

This Confederate monument formerly stood in Lakeland's Munn Park. The city removed it in 2018. Credit: Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons

A federal appeals court has rejected a challenge to the transfer of a Confederate monument from Lakeland’s Munn Park to another public park, ruling that nothing about the move violated the constitutional rights of “Lost Cause” nostaligists.

Those fans — including individuals affiliated with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy — argued the city’s 2018 move of the Munn Park Cenotaph violated their rights to free speech and due process.

Their theory was that the transfer to Veterans Park, outside Lakeland’s historic district, disadvantaged minority speech in favor of the Confederacy in a public forum, and that city officials failed to subject the move to debate before a neutral arbiter.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit unanimously rejected both claims Monday as too “abstract.”

“[T]he plaintiffs assert that the monument’s relocation infringes their interests in ‘preserv[ing] the history of the South,’ ‘expressing their free speech[] from a southern perspective,’ ‘vindicat[ing] the cause’ for which the Confederate Veteran fought,’ and ‘protect[ing] and preserv[ing] Memorials to American veterans,’” Judge Kevin Newsom wrote.

“But those injuries, too, are pretty amorphous. What exactly is the (or a) ‘southern perspective? What exactly was ‘the cause for which the Confederate veteran fought,’ and what exactly does it mean to ‘vindicate’ it?,” he continued.

“At bottom, it seems to us, the plaintiffs endorse some meaning that they ascribe to the monument; they agree with what they take to be the cenotaph’s message because it aligns with their values. And because they agree with that message, they disagree with — object to — the monument’s removal from Munn Park.

“But the plaintiffs’ inchoate agreement with what they take to be the cenotaph’s meaning or message — and their consequent disagreement with the monument’s relocation —does not alone give rise to a concrete injury” that the courts can legitimately resolve, he concluded.

According to the city government, the cenotaph was erected in 1910 at the instigation of the United Daughters. Its removal followed the 2015 church murders in Charleston, S.C., the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” rally, and subsequent removal of other Confederate monuments and flags.

“It was voiced that Confederate flags, symbols, and monuments have been seen by many communities as symbols of covert prejudice towards African Americans and non-white populations, due to a rise in their installation during the Jim Crow era and Civil Rights era,” the city website says.

The “Lost Cause” myth refers to the revisionist history concocted to recast the Civil War in a light more favorable to the defeated South — in particular, of a chivalric South against a materialistic North.