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Confederate flag appears on Georgia car plates

A Confederate battle flag is in the background of specialty license plates for sale in Georgia. North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have a Confederate flag specialty license too.

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This new specialty license plate is now on sale for $80 each in Georgia.

Georgia Motor Vehicle Division

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Georgia officials are releasing a new specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, infuriating civil rights advocates and renewing a fiery debate.

Georgia's new $80 license plate has fueled a clash between those who believe the battle flag honors Confederate heritage and others who view it as a racially charged symbol of oppression, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesman Maynard Eaton said the state should not have sanctioned the battle emblem to appear on a Georgia tag.

"To display this is reprehensible," Eaton said. "We don't have license plates saying 'Black Power.' "

The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans requested that the state issue the new plates. Spokesman Ray McBerry said the group meant no offense and views the plates as a way for people to honor their heritage.

"We believe that everyone has the right to preserve their heritage," he said. "Southerners have as much right to be proud of their heritage as anybody else."

Gov. Nathan Deal said the new tag was a surprise to him. "I had no information in advance about it," Deal said.

The plate features a Confederate battle flag image in the background that covers the entire plate. It also features a logo of the Sons of Confederate veterans, which includes a smaller version of the stars and bars.

States that joined the Confederacy have taken different positions on the battle flag.

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The Journal-Constitution reports that North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have specialty license tags that include it. Texas rejected an application to issue one, on the grounds that it would offend many residents. The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued board members of the Texas motor vehicle agency, and the case remains in the courts.

Last March, a Confederate battle flag hung inside the old North Carolina State Capitol to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War was taken down after civil rights leaders raised concerns.

And a firefighter in Florida was suspended last month for painting a confederate flag on a fire department ax.

In Georgia, the Department of Revenue's Motor Vehicle Division approves proposed designs for specialty plates. Officials did not respond to questions from the Atlanta newspaper about the criteria it uses, except to say by email that they can't violate copyright laws.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.