Westminster's parade follies CARROLL COUNTY

October 12, 1992

The faster the Westminster Council revises the city's code dealing with parades, the better. It is chock full of unconstitutional -- as well as nonsensical -- provisions that might be appropriate if Westminster had a totalitarian rather than democratic form of government.

The council's public safety committee, chaired by Kenneth A. Yowan, is proposing changes in only two portions of the defective sections of the code -- those dealing with display of foreign flags and requiring parades to post a bond. We just hope the committee and the council don't decide to stop there.

At some point in history, there may have been a reason for prohibiting the display of a flag of a country or a political party with which the U.S. government was engaged in "hostilities," or a country with which the U.S. government had broken off diplomatic relations. Whatever the reasons, it was wrong then; it is wrong now. There should not be a great deal of deliberation on this. The prohibition violates the First Amendment and should be repealed.

The council is also examining the code's current requirement that any group parading must post a bond -- which hasn't been enforced in 26 years, according to police chief Sam Leppo. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled a similar requirement in Forsyth County, Ga., was unconstitutional. Westminster is the only Maryland municipality with this requirement. It's time to end that distinction.

The committee shouldn't stop its code cleaning at those two provisions. It should look at the section that prevents a citizen from picketing a private business in Westminster without a permit. Another non-sensical provision limits signs in parades to no wider than two feet and no higher than three feet. Even if these ordinances have never been enforced, there is no justification for keeping them on the books.

Mr. Yowan apparently believes his committee is only obligated to examine the flag and insurance provisions. Yet there is no time like the present to clean up this portion of the city's code. Mr. Yowan and the council should take some initiative and rid the parade section of seemingly quaint, but unconstitutional, provisions. In doing so, the council would send a message that free speech is welcome in Westminster.

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