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Confederate Statues In Charlottesville Are Legally Protected, Virginia Judge Rules

The statues are protected war memorials, regardless of whether they're seen as symbols of white supremacy, the judge said.

A Virginia judge has ruled that Charlottesville’s Confederate statues are war monuments protected by state law and cannot be removed.

Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore’s ruling last week followed protests and litigation over two statues that depict Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

Moore argued in a letter dated April 25 that the statues are undeniable monuments and memorials to the Civil War and its two leaders, which means they are legally protected. He acknowledged that there’s “plenty of dispute” about the statues’ meaning, however.

“While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time ... and do not think of white supremacy at all and certainly do not believe in, accept, or agree with such,” Moore said. “In either event, the statues to them under the undisputed facts of this case still are monuments and memorials to them, as veterans of the Civil War.”

A sign saying "Heather Heyer Park" at the base of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A sign saying "Heather Heyer Park" at the base of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer was killed while protesting a white nationalist rally in the city in 2017.

The state law referenced by Moore protect memorials for war veterans once they’re erected. It makes it “unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected, or to prevent its citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same.”

While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time.

Despite this law, Charlottesville City Council members voted in 2017 to remove Lee’s statue, prompting a white nationalist rally in the city that led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer. Two state troopers were also killed in a helicopter crash while responding to the event.

The Monument Fund, a local nonprofit that works to preserve historic monuments and memorials, also filed a lawsuit against the city council members to prevent the statues’ removal while accusing the council of violating Virginia’s monument protection law.

The city council reportedly argued in a court filing in January that the statues are not war memorials, saying they went up during the Jim Crow era as symbols of white dominance.

“The statues were part of a regime of city-sanctioned segregation that denied African-Americans equal access to government and public spaces,” attorneys for the city wrote in a court filing, according to The New York Times. “The fact that certain Charlottesville residents are unaware of the statues’ history does not change that history or the messages the statues send.”

Bob Fenwick, a former council member who is named in the Monument Fund’s lawsuit, said he stands behind his vote to remove the statues, calling the state law protecting war memorials and monuments “flawed.”

“It was a lawful act that we did,” he told CBS 19 of the council’s vote. “If there are any ramifications that come from it, I’ll take them.”

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