(CNSNews.com) - South Carolina's attorney general is suing two groups involved in racially-charged protests at the state's highway welcome centers, alleging that the NAACP and the European-American Unity Rights Organization are costing the state money and breaking the law. The two groups are battling over whether the Confederate flag should remain on the grounds of the state capitol.
In January, the NAACP announced that it would begin setting up "border patrols" at all entries into the state, especially at roadside welcome centers, in an effort to discourage visitors from spending money in the state.
Since then, the European-American Unity Rights Organization (EURO) has staged counter protests and established "welcome patrols" at the welcome centers.
South Carolina's Confederate flag controversy began in 2000. Following six months of protests on the part of the NAACP, the South Carolina legislature decided to remove the flag from atop the capitol dome and place it at the site of a memorial on the capitol grounds. The NAACP is not satisfied, insisting that the flag be removed from the capitol grounds entirely.
Attorney General Charlie Condon filed the suit Monday after warning the NAACP and EURO that their demonstrations at statewide welcome centers were illegal.
"When the leadership of the NAACP first announced their plan to conduct border patrols at South Carolina's interstate welcome centers, I urged them to reconsider," Condon said. "I even offered to meet with them personally. Unfortunately, they refused to meet.
"Without gaining permission from any state or federal officials, the NAACP went forward with its plan to stage political protests at welcome centers and rest stops, an act which, in my judgment, is clearly illegal," Condon said.
EURO, which Condon describes as "another group from the opposite extreme," launched its "counter-demonstration" against the NAACP a week later.
Condon said that since the welcome centers and rest stops are not designed to be places of mass protest, he wants the groups to pay for the extra state law enforcement that has been needed to keep the peace at the locations.
Condon said the lawsuit is asking the state court to "declare that the activities the two groups are now engaged in violates state and federal law regulating permissible activities at interstate rest stops and welcome centers."
The state is also asking the court to "order further relief which could include recovery of the cost incurred by taxpayers in protecting public safety as a result of these illegal activities.
No hearing date has been set.
EURO National Director Vincent Breeding called Condon's lawsuit a "smoke and mirrors action."
"We feel that Mr. Condon's decision fails to address the problem of the NAACP's illegal boycott," Breeding said. "It's kind of a smoke and mirrors action by the state attorney general because Mr. Condon is running for governor.
"It doesn't attack the illegal boycott but it does attack the NAACP, but in such a way that it includes us (EURO)," Breeding said.
Breeding added that Condon's actions are an attempt to appease both sides so he will have an easier time running for governor.
"We haven't seen a state move against the NAACP in 30 years," Breeding said. "It's part of a half measure, a way to slap the NAACP on the wrist and please the conservative voters of South Carolina while not actually doing anything about the NAACP's real agenda."
Breeding contends that EURO has every right to use the rest stops and welcome centers to distribute its message.
"The First Amendment allows for the use of public property for the cause of free speech with the understanding that sometimes it is an inconvenience. But it is the price that we pay for having free speech and assembly in this country."
John White, a spokesman for the NAACP said the organization would not comment until the group's lawyers had reviewed the lawsuit.
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