The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled that Texas could not prohibit a group that celebrates the Confederacy from having their own specialty license plates.

The federal appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the First Amendment by rejecting the Sons of Confederate Veterans application for license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag.

The board rejected the proposed plate by an 8-0 vote in 2011, saying that members of the public found the Confederate imagery to be offensive. The board explained in its resolution that "a significant portion of the public associate the confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups."

But the federal appeals court said the board could not discriminate against particular viewpoints because the public deemed them to be offensive.

"The government may not 'selectively... shield the public from some kinds of speech on the ground that they are more offensive than others,'" the federal appeals court ruled. "That is precisely what the Board did, however, when it rejected Texas SCV’s plate. Accordingly, we hold that the Board impermissibly discriminated against Texas SCV’s viewpoint when it denied the specialty license plate."

On its website, Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans states that "citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America." The group also suggests Southern states tried to secede from the union to preserve freedom -- not to preserve slavery.

"The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution. The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built."

The Sons of Confederate Veterans has specialty license plates available in Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, according to a 2011 press release about the case. The group uses the license plates to raise funds.

“This is a sad day for African-Americans and others victimized by hate groups in this state,” Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP in Texas, told The Dallas Morning News.

[Confederate Memorial Day via Shutterstock]