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State Attorney General Challenges Olympic Flag Rule

June 27, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ The state’s attorney general said Thursday that an Olympic rule barring fans from waving unauthorized banners _ such as the Confederate flag _ violates free-speech rights and shouldn’t be enforced by state police.

Only the national flags of participating countries are allowed at events, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games has ruled. People with unauthorized flags will be barred from entering or ejected.

The committee insists the rule isn’t aimed at flags that many people consider racist, such as the Confederate flag and the Georgia state flag, which includes elements of the Confederate flag.

The Georgia state flag flies outside state-owned venues now and will continue to fly there during the games next month. But during the games, a pre-1956 state flag that doesn’t include the stars-and-bars associated with the confederacy will be flown at the airport and city hall.

``A lot of people want to put in our mouths that we’re not flying the flag for some political reasons. That hasn’t got anything to do with it,″ said ACOG spokesman Dick Yarbrough. ``This is what the IOC requires.″

But Attorney General Mike Bowers said Thursday that ACOG’s power to enforce the ban is questionable, and that state law enforcement officers who help with Olympic security should not help to enforce it.

Bowers’ announcement was hailed by Charles Lunsford, spokesman for a pro-flag group offering free legal help to anyone barred by Olympic officials from waving the state flag.

``We’ve been watching what ACOG has done for some time, and we find it terribly disturbing they would express such arrogance as to have such an event in the middle of the South and do everything they can to hide the fact they’re in the South,″ he said.

Yarbrough said the ACOG would review Bowers’ statement.

``It’s our intent to obey the law,″ said Yarbrough. ``This opinion from the attorney general is helpful in that regard ... We really do need to see it before we start talking about what we will and won’t do.″

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat and veteran of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, said the flag belongs in a museum.

``This is not an historic flag,″ Brooks said. ``This is a flag that was changed as an act of defiance against school integration and voting rights for African-Americans.″

The Confederacy’s fighting banner was added to the state flag in 1956 by a Legislature fuming over school desegregation rulings, although its defenders insist the flag merely honors the bravery of Southern soldiers.

Gov. Zell Miller sought to remove the emblem in 1993 but was blocked by the Legislature and only narrowly won re-election the next year.

It wasn’t the first time Bowers, a Republican and likely gubernatorial candidate himself, has vexed officials preparing for the games.

In March, he declared that Atlanta was ``almost a war zone″ because of its crime. ``I imagine over the past 30 days we’ve had more murders in Atlanta than Sarajevo,″ he said.

The statement brought a sharp retort from Mayor Bill Campbell, who said the comments were ``reckless, irresponsible and inaccurate.″

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