LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A lawyer is calling on the highest court in the land to hear his free speech case involving the relocation of a Confederate monument out of Munn Park several years ago in downtown Lakeland.
“We believe it is wrong-headed and unconstitutional,” said David McCallister, the attorney for petitioners.
Lakeland city commissioners first voted to remove the statue a century-old Confederate statue from Munn Park in 2017.
In November 2018, the city commission voted to use $225,000 in red light violation funds to relocate the monument to Veterans’ Memorial Park, a public park adjacent to the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
McCallister’s previous lawsuits on the matter have been dismissed by the courts.
Most recently, an appeals court in Atlanta dismissed the case.
In a petition filed Thursday, McCallister, on behalf of several petitioners, is requesting his case be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court to “re-examine Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum…and distinguish whether legacy monuments constitute government speech or a form of hybrid speech.”
It lists as “respondents”: Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz, former city manager Tony Delgado, former commissioner Don Selvage, former commissioner Justin Troller, Commissioner Phillip Walker, Tony Padilla, President, Energy Services & Products Corp., and former Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner.
“We can’t allow censorship in this particular forum, in public forum,” said McCallister. “The issue is the monument was moved and removed the first speech that it was projecting out of this particular place, the traditional public forum.”
McCallister, an attorney for the organization Save Southern Heritage Inc., was joined by mayoral candidate Saga Stevin and several petitioners at a press conference Friday.
They claim the relocation of the statue violated their first amendment rights.
“Our future generations need heroes and these monuments represent heroes,” said Phil Walters, who is listed as a petitioner.
Confederate statues have become controversial touchstones in the national debate on racial justice.
“I remember it there when I was a young kid. It wasn’t there for me. I’m 70 years old now. Why was I supposed to be happy about that statue?” said NAACP Lakeland branch president Terry Coney.
Coney has long believed Veterans’ Memorial Park is the appropriate location for the statue, which includes an expanding number of memorial markers.
“It’s set up to recognize all veterans from all wars and even though that was very painful segment in American history, it still happened,” he said. “People were carrying on like it was going to be destroyed. It’s not destroyed. It’s still standing. You go to Veterans’ Park, you can’t miss it.”
Commissioner Phillip Walker, who is targeted in the petition, agrees the statue should stay where it is.
“People do what they have to do and that’s what they think they’ll do. I believe what we did was the right thing to do at the time and it’s a done deal, I believe,” he said.
Mayor Bill Mutz and city of Lakeland officials declined to comment for this story.
McCallister said if the U.S. Supreme Court declines to take the case, the legal case will be over.
“We’ll have to see what the plaintiffs wish to do and we’ll take up this issue in other venues, other areas,” he said.