30 anti-abortion activists criticize bill in Annapolis on fees for march services

January 05, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

About 30 anti-abortion activists showed up at Annapolis City Hall last night to lambaste proposed legislation that would charge event organizers as much as $5,400 for police services, arguing it could affect their annual State House march and violate their First Amendment rights.

The Annapolis March for Life committee sent out 4,000 fliers urging its members to show up at the public hearing after city spokesman Thomas W. Roskelly informed them three weeks ago that permit approval for their March 1 event was being held up because of the pending legislation.

The march from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to the State House involves closing Rowe Boulevard at least an hour.

Roskelly approved the permit yesterday after meeting with Mayor Dean L. Johnson and Paul G. Goetzke, the city attorney. But he said it remains an open question whether a march is covered under the constitutional guarantees of free speech. If the law passes, the March for Life organization might have to pay to march next year.

"There is a contention that a procession from Point A to Point B is not" free speech, Roskelly said. "That's something that the office of law is looking at now. The city attorney is examining the First Amendment implications."

Arthur W. Sawyer Jr., march committee chairman, said he does not object to the ordinance but that his organization should not have to pay. The event drew almost 2,000 marchers last year.

"Anyone who has seen the march the last 20 years knows that this is an opportunity for participants to make their views known to the legislature," he said. "With their signs, banners, placards and candles the marchers are exercising their right of free speech."

Sawyer said his group has never had a problem obtaining the required permits since the first march in 1980.

A handful of residents at last night's meeting spoke in favor of the bill.

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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