The decision of the Fourth of July Committee to exclude from future parades those contingents it finds "inappropriate" and "politically volatile" treads on dangerous grounds. If the committee excludes persons or signs because they are politically offensive to some members of the public, they will run directly counter to the basic American belief in free speech.
The Supreme Court has said, "the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers." The court has said that the function of free speech is best served when the speech creates unrest and even anger. The public streets are clearly an appropriate forum for expressing political views, and unpopular opinions should not be suppressed merely because they are unpopular. Surely patriotic displays could not be banned from the parade simply because some persons in our community find them offensive. Censoring any message because of its content is unacceptable.
The event giving rise to the committee's decision was a parody of President Bush, intended to draw attention to issues about his military service and his attitude toward veterans. Those are serious topics suitable for public debate. The fact that one person chose to make his points through a parody does not change his right to free speech. Humorous free speech is just as protected in our American system as any other type of speech.
The committee needs to be reminded that the Fourth of July parade is a great event because it is such an enjoyable expression of the diversity of our community. I trust they will, on reflection, choose not to make it a reflection of only one viewpoint.
Douglas K. Mertz
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