AUBURN, Wash. — A veterans peace group on Monday sued the City of Auburn for refusing to allow the group to take its usual place in the city’s annual Veterans Day parade, one of the largest west of the Mississippi River.
The lawsuit filed in federal court by the Greater Seattle chapter of Veterans for Peace accuses the city of violating its free-speech rights by denying its application to march in the parade at 11 a.m. Saturday in downtown Auburn.
The city allegedly said it received too many applicants and “chose those that most closely meet the goals and purpose” of the 47th annual parade, according to the lawsuit. But Michael Dedrick, a group member and past president, said that explanation was simply cover because organizers don’t like the peace group’s message.
Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis declined comment Monday because the lawsuit is pending. City attorney Dan Heid said the growing size of the parade was a factor in trimming some entries; the group’s message was another factor.
“This is an Auburn parade with a pro-military message,” Heid told The Seattle Times. “The Veterans for Peace have a different message. …We part company with them there.”
Veterans for Peace had marched in the parade the past six years. The group said it honors service members and veterans through its work to “abolish war as an instrument of national policy so that no soldier will be ordered to place limb, life, or soul in jeopardy for an unjust or unworthy cause,” the lawsuit says.
Dedrick said a congressional resolution declared that Armistice Day, the precursor to Veterans Day, should be commemorated with “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
The city’s decision is “ironic to say the least,” said Dedrick, a 67-year-old Seattle resident who served a one-year tour in Vietnam.
The suit contends the group applied for a permit around Sept. 13, and the city denied it around Oct. 4. The group filed an appeal, but the city upheld its decision.
The lawsuit alleges the parade regulations “grant excessive discretion” to city officials to approve or deny applications, and they have no standards to guide those decisions.
Members from chapters in Tacoma, Bellingham, Olympia and Kitsap County have joined the Greater Seattle chapter during past parades. About 45 people marched last year.
He said group members have held the American flag, peace flags and signs calling for the nation’s exit from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t solicit donations during the parade.
Dedrick called it an “insult” that non-veteran groups such as the Classical Glass Corvette Club and Auburn Optimist Club are allowed to march while his group is not. There are 184 participants in this year’s parade, according to the city’s website.
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the group. It seeks a court order that forces the city to allow the group to march, declares parade rules unconstitutional and prevents the city from using those rules in future events.