Parade panel agrees ban is inappropriate

Committee makes about-face; will accept any legal entry, regardless of content

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

To end the hullabaloo over its proposal to bar "inappropriate" entries, the Juneau Fourth of July Parade Committee released a new guideline Friday, allowing floats and marching groups to participate regardless of their content or message.

The new guideline was drafted by City Attorney John Hartle and approved by Mayor Bruce Botelho and the committee.

"The committee decided to follow First Amendment principles," according to a written statement from the mayor's office. "The committee agrees that the First Amendment protects even speech and demonstrations that may make some people uncomfortable."

Parade committee director Gerald Dorsher said the guideline will be included in next year's entry form.

The city gave the committee the guideline to end the controversy over the group's earlier decision to prohibit "inappropriate" entries.

The 16-member committee had decided to bar any distasteful entries next year because some residents were upset with a man wearing a President Bush mask and mocking the president in this year's parade.

Once publicized, the decision polarized the community. While some supported the policy, others said freedom of speech was exactly the spirit of Independence Day. The decision also drew the attention of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, which contacted the committee out of concerns that such a decision might violate First Amendment rights.

"The parade is a city-sponsored event. And the U.S. Constitution forbids all levels of government from imposing prior restraints on freedom of expression," Botelho said.

Although the city doesn't finance the parade, the city provides insurance, issues a parade permit, and has specifically recognized the Juneau and Douglas Fourth of July committees by resolutions of the Juneau Assembly.

Dorsher, who has been on the parade committee for 20 years, said the group just wants to move on and prepare for next year's parade.

Committee member Jean Sztuk said this year's parade was special for Dorsher because the committee dedicated it to his late wife, Beverly.

"I recall my father taking me to the Fourth of July parade when we lived in Minneapolis, Minn., and how enjoyable it was," Dorsher, 73, said. "A parade is just a wonderful event for the family to get together."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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