A unanimous Supreme Court upheld a Boston veterans group's...

July 04, 1995

A unanimous Supreme Court upheld a Boston veterans group's right to bar an Irish-American gay, lesbian and bi-sexual organization from its big St. Patrick's Day parade. It ruled that Massachusetts could not order the veterans to let the sexual group march with them and proclaim their sexual status and beliefs. The court noted that the organizers were exercising their First Amendment right of free speech in deciding what message or messages they would send via the parade. (Of course, the gay and lesbian group has the same right to mount its own parade.)

This is hardly the first time the Supreme Court has ruled expansively in freedom of speech cases. As Justice David Souter noted for the court, "the First Amendment shields such acts as saluting the flag (and refusing to do so), wearing an arm band to protest a war, displaying a red flag, and even marching, walking or parading in uniforms displaying the swastika." And, -- "Our tradition of free speech commands that a speaker who takes to the street corner to express his views in this way should be free from interference by the State based on the content of what he says."

A parade is just another form of expression. That the Boston veterans were engaging in an act of discrimination, even bigotry, is beside the point. Just as they have the right not to allow the Ku Klux Klan or an anti-busing organization to march in their annual parades espousing a malign message about racial exclusion (and the veterans to their credit have denied both those groups permission to parade with them), they have the right to rebuff a group seeking to use the parade to espouse its benign message about inclusion of those with a different sexual orientation.

Justice Souter compared a parade of this sort by a private sponsor to a newspaper's "opinion pages." An editor's right to pick and choose what columns, articles and letters to print "falls squarely within the core of First Amendment security. . . One important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say." A parade organizer has that same protection against being told by the government which floats and marchers to accept.

Some gay-lesbian groups are not that dismayed by this decision. They believe there is an interesting possible twist to the ruling's logic. If denying someone the right to assert homosexuality is protected speech, is asserting one's sexuality also protected speech? The legal director of one homosexual rights organization says the ruling may have bolstered the eventual challenge in the Supreme Court to the military policy of forbidding service men and women to "tell" anyone they are gay.

XTCHD: A Parade Is Protected Speech

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