US District Chief Judge Marsha Pechman said Veterans for Peace must be allowed to march in the Auburn Veterans Day parade Saturday. She called Auburn’s policy a textbook violation of the First Amendment.
The city of Auburn’s Veterans Day parade is one of the largest in the country. It started during the Vietnam War. The group Veterans for Peace started marching in the parade during the Iraq war. They hold signs saying “bring the troops home.”
This year the city of Auburn refused to let them take part. The city said the peace group’s rhetoric was at odds with its goal to honor military personnel.
But Pechman said reflecting on the costs of war was an appropriate message for Veterans Day. Ruling from the bench, Pechman added, “The First Amendment is a right veterans have fought to defend.” The ruling grants a temporary restraining order requested by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington against Auburn.
Auburn City Attorney Daniel Heid said after the ruling that Veterans for Peace can march this weekend. He said he's not sure whether the city will make policy changes in the future. “The city’s intention was to develop a positive message of thanks for service," Heid said. "And the concern was that telling people their efforts were not worth it is giving a different message."
Heid said veterans have complained about the group’s presence in the parade. But Veterans for Peace marcher Mike Dedrick said people seem more supportive lately than they did around the time of the Iraq invasion. “The last two or three years, people clap. They wave at us," he said. "I’ve had people come up to me personally and say, ‘thank you for being here.’”
Dedrick said if his group weren’t in the parade, veterans’ issues like health care and the cost of wars for everyone in the US wouldn’t be fully represented. “Those things need to be talked about, especially on Veterans Day,” he said.
Pechman’s ruling is a temporary solution that allows Veterans for Peace to march this year. Lawyers for the group say they’ll seek a permanent change to Auburn’s policies.