Do We Have Real Freedoms?

By Larry Fisk

I'd like to clarify the circumstances surrounding the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace being barred from the Fourth of July parade. BACP simply wished to participate as part of the community, celebrating and exercising our freedoms. We try to keep the idea of peace before the public and to show that we are an active part of the community.

The name of our marching unit was to be "Supporting American Freedoms", as stated on our application. The plan was for a group of adults and children to march with our organizational banner and another banner saying "Supporting American Freedoms of Speech, Assembly and Dissent". We were to carry an American flag, two peace flags and a sign saying "Peace Is Patriotic". Other signs were to have quotes from well known Americans such as Benjamin Franklin, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. We were considering singing "This Land Is Your Land" as we marched.

BACP received an application June 19 and Community Action received our completed application on the morning of the 20th. During a call on the 25th, BACP was told confirmations were going out that day and the next but we did not receive one. Community Action held our application from the 20th to the 30th without mentioning anything about a problem or asking about the nature of our entry. One person in the media said "It appears they were trying to run the clock out on you."

Indeed, when we were told by Nancy Cross and Tom Fitzpatrick on the 30th that BACP would not be permitted to march, we were left with little time to consider the denial, communicate, make decisions and react. We did seek legal advice and write a letter urging Community Action and Brainerd city officials to reconsider the decision, as it was illegal, in violation of our basic rights and made a mockery of the celebration of American freedom. The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, on its own initiative, contacted City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick to say there appeared to be a violation of the right of free speech under the First Amendment and urging that the position be reconsidered. Apparently none of those who made the decision said, "What have we been thinking! This is a celebration of American freedom, we can't violate the Constitution!"

BACP would like to be educating the public about the unnecessary and terrible human toll of the latest war and advocating peace rather than defending our right to speak. But the issue is one of basic civil liberties and should be of concern to all citizens. If BACP can be barred, who else? If a black organization wanted to march could they be barred because there are racists in the community? What if Muslims wanted to march? Or those of a minority sexual orientation?

Do we have freedoms in America or do we just pretend? Do we have real rights or just words? Does the Constitution have real meaning and guarantee rights to all, or is law to be ignored for the benefit or convenience of those in positions of power?

All have the same rights, no matter how small the group or unpopular the point of view. BACP happens to be part of a movement that expresses ideas shared by many millions of Americans.

(Fisk, a Fort Ripley resident, is a member of the Brainerd Area Coalition of Peace.)