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 made a point during her ruling that freedom of speech is one of the important rights that veterans have defended in conflicts around the world, said Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented the peace group.
Honig said he was happy with the decision, saying the city “gave no good reason why Veterans for Peace should not also be allowed to march in a Veterans Day parade.”
Members from chapters in Tacoma, Bellingham, Olympia and Kitsap County have joined the Greater Seattle chapter, which brought the lawsuit, during past parades. About 45 people marched last year.
In prior years, group members have held the American flag, peace flags – where a peace sign replaces the field of 50 stars on the American flag – and signs calling for the nation’s exit from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and estimating the cost of the wars.
Lewis, the Auburn mayor and himself a Vietnam veteran, wrote in a declaration that he received complaints about some signs after last year’s parade and didn’t want veterans to be subject to perceived criticism of their service.
He said there’s been no discussion at this point about whether to appeal the judge’s decision.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390