Auburn must allow peace group in parade

courts: Veterans’ free-speech rights prevail, says judge

Staff writerNovember 10, 2012 

The peace flags will fly during today’s Veterans Day parade in Auburn after all.

U.S. District Chief Judge Marsha Pechman ordered Auburn city officials to allow members of Veterans for Peace to march in the parade after hearing about an hour of oral arguments Friday morning.

Mayor Pete Lewis said after the hearing that the city would comply with the judge’s order.

“The parade will take place on Saturday,” he said, “and the great thing about the United States is that we are a nation governed by laws.”

The peace group sued in federal court in Seattle on Monday after the city last month rejected its application to participate in the 11 a.m. event in downtown Auburn. The group, which has marched in the parade for six years, accused the city of violating its free-speech rights.

The city held to its right to shut out a group officials deemed was spreading a message counter to the positive reinforcement they wanted to give veterans.

On Friday, Pechman rejected Auburn’s argument that the parade was not a public forum where participants can express themselves freely, but rather a venue where officials can control a message and therefore can preclude groups whose views run counter to that message.

In court papers, the city had argued: “It sets the messages, and allows other private entities to assist it in conveying that message.”

The peace group’s attorneys characterized that stance as “radical” because it suggests city officials are not subject to the First Amendment. They argued the parade marchers, not the government, are the ones “speaking” at the event and that their free-speech rights prevail.

Pechman agreed and noted that freedom of speech is one of the rights that veterans have defended.

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