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NEW ORLEANS — A group that was denied permission to march in a Louisiana city's Christmas parade when it insisted on carrying Confederate battle flags lost its latest appeal Thursday in a federal court.

Three judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by the Louisiana Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They upheld a lower court ruling that there was no constitutional violation in the denial of the permit because permitting decisions were made by a private, nonprofit group — not a government entity.

The decision comes amid nationwide demonstrations and calls for racial justice following the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

And it is the result of a dispute that begin months after other killings that raised the national consciousness: The permit for the annual parade in the northwest Louisiana city of Natchitoches was denied in 2015, months after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine Black worshipers at a South Carolina church. Pictures on social media of Roof posing with Confederate battle flags led to renewed opposition to public displays of Confederate iconography around the nation.

When the case was argued at the 5th Circuit in February, judges' questions made clear they were concerned that the denial of a permit by the city would be a violation of freedom of speech. The city's mayor had expressed concern that the display of Confederate flags during the parade would offend Black residents.

But the case hinged on the role of the Historic District Business Association — a defendant in the Confederate group's lawsuit, along with Natchitoches officials. That group, which ran the parade under an agreement with the city, denied the permit.

U.S. District Judge Dee Drell dismissed the Confederate group's lawsuit last year. The 5th Circuit panel upheld Drell's decision, finding "the City was not involved in the decision to deny the SCV the right to participate in the parade."

The panel consisted of judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Catharina Haynes and Leslie Southwick.