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Veterans For Peace sues to march in Auburn's Veterans Day Parade
A veterans group that has marched in Auburn's Veterans Day Parade for the past six years is suing to march in this year's parade, the ACLU of Washington announced Monday.
Veterans For Peace's suit claims that Auburn officials are violating the group's free speech rights by unfairly denying its application to march in Saturday's parade.
The ACLU of Washington is representing the veterans group in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Veterans For Peace (VFP), a national organization, said in a release that it honors the country's veterans and active military personnel and seeks to promote peace and decrease U.S. military involvement in foreign conflicts.
In its work, the VFP said in the release, it honors soldiers by "using and guarding constitutional freedoms that military personnel swore to defend in their oaths of enlistment and office."
The Greater Seattle Chapter of Veterans For Peace has participated in the Auburn Veterans Day Parade since 2006. Yet the city denied the veterans group's application to march in the 2012 parade, claiming that the City chose only those applicants that most closely meet the purpose and goals of the parade.
At the same time, the VFP notes, the City has approved applications from a motorcycle club, a Corvette club, the Optimists and Kiwanis International, the Sons of Italy, and a Daffodil Festival float.
Some veterans are irked by the City's actions.
"As a United States Marine Corps combat veteran ... and a longtime veterans advocate, it's my opinion the City of Auburn's mayor and City Council (are mistaken) for allowing this exclusion of a legitimate veterans organization to happen," Semper Fi and Hanshi Jim Curtis, of the North American Self-Defense Association of Maple Valley, said in a statement. "Every American combat veteran that I know strongly believes in freedom of speech and says that is why he or she put their life on the line for this great nation."
The suit alleges that the City of Auburn's rules governing which groups are allowed to march in the government-sponsored parade are unconstitutional, and that they allow decisions about applications to be made on the subjective beliefs of administrators as to who meets the goals and purposes of the parade. Further, the suit asserts that the City is discriminating against Veterans For Peace because of the group's viewpoint.
In sponsoring the parade, the suit states, the City is creating a space for private groups to speak on the topic of veterans on the occasion of Veterans Day. The VFP, the suit asserts, is "clearly a veterans group, and its mission is not inconsistent with the purpose and goals of the parade. The City has given no justification why VFP's application has been denied while those of many other groups with diverse messages have been accepted."
Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid, who hadn't seen the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon, said the City weighed two factors in its decision.
"For one thing, you cannot have a three-hour parade, so you have to make some calls, you have to make some decisions in terms of who can march," Heid said. "You can't possibly have everybody march. Two, the Veterans for Peace has a stand that is inconsistent with the mission of the parade. The parade's mission as written — and they've been provided it — is to support and give honor to the military veterans and current military and their missions of defending freedom around the globe. That is inconsistent with the mission of the Veterans for Peace. Veterans for Peace has taken the position that members of the military should disobey orders to go to foreign areas because of illegal wars waged by the country."
Heid noted that the City has offered to allow group members to express their right of free speech by giving them a static display, that is, a booth or an area reserved for them to express their opinion.
"That is different, however, from marching in the parade," Heid said.
City's official stance
A statement released by the City on Tuesday said: The parade's purpose and mission expressly states that it is an event to "positively focus on honoring our country's veterans and active military personnel," and their mission to defend freedom around the world.
The release also said the City respects the VFP's right to express its opinion and offered the group the opportunity to participate in the celebration by joining 21 other military and veterans organizations and food vendors in the Static Display Area, which is located near the parade route. Further, the organization has been informed that it also has the option, as any other group, to apply for its own parade permit, and to hold its own event. But that is not the point.
According to the City statement, there were two major reasons it denied the VFP's application to participate in this year's parade:
• The organization does not best meet the City's mission for the Veterans Day Parade — to positively focus on honoring and supporting military and veterans and their mission in defending freedom across the globe.
• The City is attempting to shorten the length of the parade. Eight other organization applications were also denied.
The City is entitled to express its support for the military by holding a parade with the same freedom that VFP or anyone else has, the statement said. Just like anyone else putting on a parade, the City may exclude those persons who do not convey a message that supports the purpose of the parade. The City of Auburn will defend its right to support our veterans and military, the release said.
Meanwhile, David Whedbee, attorney and ACLU-WA board member, said the Veterans for Peace is "a group of patriotic people who care about their fellow veterans and want to express themselves by marching in the Veterans Day Parade. The City has given no good reason why other groups are being allowed to march while their application was rejected."
The lawsuit seeks a court order to have VFP march in this year's Veterans Parade in Auburn.
Handling the case for the ACLU-WA are cooperating attorney David Whedbee of MacDonald, Hoague, and Bayless, and staff attorneys Sarah Dunne, La Rond Baker, and Margaret Chen.