Dallas

Lawyer suing Dallas over Robert E. Lee statue accuses city of throwing ‘temper tantrum’

‘Everybody’s history is important’ says Confederate group that feels misunderstood by some

The Sons of Confederate Veterans say that they come to the N.C. State Fair to educate people about Southern history and heritage, not to promote hatred. They meet people, give out stickers and sell merchandise at the fair in Raleigh on Oct. 19, 2017.
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The Sons of Confederate Veterans say that they come to the N.C. State Fair to educate people about Southern history and heritage, not to promote hatred. They meet people, give out stickers and sell merchandise at the fair in Raleigh on Oct. 19, 2017.

A Dallas man filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding that the city halt plans to remove the granite base where the now-removed statue of Robert E. Lee once stood.

Warren Johnson, part of the group “Return Lee to Lee Park,” says in the suit that the city violated his free speech rights by illegally removing the Lee and Young Soldier statue. Now, he is petitioning to stop the city from removing the plinth where Lee once stood.

“This is a victory lap for people who are happy about the development of ‘let’s take all the Confederate statues down,’” Warren Norred, Johnson’s lawyer, said. “There are a small number of people who always want to take offense at everything.”

Norred said he and Johnson filed the suit Thursday to put a stop to the city’s “political temper tantrum.”

City officials were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

The city announced Tuesday a team was beginning to disassemble the plinth. The city estimated the removal of the pink granite rock will cost $210,000.

Norred said at least one person on the city council wants the plinth removed to ensure that the Lee statue can never be put back up.

In the suit, Johnson said he lives near Oak Lawn Park, previously known as Lee Park. On Jan. 4, he saw three men working on preparations to remove the plinth, he says in the suit.

The statue of the Confederate general was removed from the park in September 2017 after deadly protests over the removal of a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Johnson and Norred say the city illegally took down the statue because the city council did not follow proper procedures. Norred is representing Johnson in another case that aims to have Lee’s statue put back up in the park.

“You don’t do this at the dead of night or skimp the rules,” Norred said. “These are people who want to make a political point.”

The suit specifically names Mayor Mike Rawlings and members of the Dallas City Council.

In the suit, Johnson says Dallas is “exercising viewpoint discrimination against works of art” and has “attributed disfavored political messages to the Monuments.”

The statue was unveiled by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, and Norred said it represented the positive traits of the South, such as honor, patriotism and bravery.

“People need to make peace with their past,” he said. “It’s been 150 years. People need to get over these things. We don’t make rules based on the most unreasonable and sensitive person.”

In September 2017, a judge granted a temporary restraining order to stop the removal of the statue. At a hearing the next day, however, U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater dismissed the lawsuit, which was brought by a Dallas resident and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Norred said Johnson was not involved in the 2017 lawsuit.

Johnson is part of a group dedicated to bringing back the Lee statue. According to its website, “The statue was hastily taken as if by a gang of thieves from the citizens of Dallas in the dark of the coming night after a rogue city council ordered its removal under the guise of a still unproven and unsubstantiated emergency only to have the members of the council state just one week later that they did not know what they were voting for.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans say that they come to the N.C. State Fair to educate people about Southern history and heritage, not to promote hatred. They meet people, give out stickers and sell merchandise at the fair in Raleigh on Oct. 19, 2017.

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