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Minutemen Sue O.C. City Over Parade Refusal

January 28, 2006|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

The Minuteman Project, an illegal-immigrant patrol group excluded from a Laguna Beach parade, filed a lawsuit Friday saying that its free-speech rights had been violated.

At issue is the homespun 40th annual Patriots Day parade March 4. Organizers refused a Minuteman entry Jan. 19, saying it would violate the parade's 25-year-old bylaws that exclude "religious or political entries."

The Minuteman group is seeking to participate and is asking for $25,000 in damages for being excluded, plus legal fees.

"We are not asking the parade committee to exclude anyone. We want everyone to participate," Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist said at a news conference Friday. Organizers "have unfairly compared us to groups with a history of violence."

Gilchrist said his group's participants hope to wear red, white and blue in the parade and be accompanied by a truck. Regardless of what happens with the suit, he said, he anticipates that 1,200 Minuteman supporters will attend as spectators

Charles J. Quilter II, vice president of the Patriots Day Parade Assn., said the lawsuit represented "a well-financed political organization taking on a civic group for their own purposes."

He said the association, led by a 16-person parade committee, operates with a $10,000 budget that pays for programs, trophies, insurance and band judges. It has neither an attorney nor funds to hire one, he said.

Filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, the suit named as defendants the parade organizers, the city of Laguna Beach and two groups participating in the parade that the Minuteman group contends are political in nature.

The suit also contends that the parade association supports antiwar and pro-illegal immigrant philosophies and hates the Minuteman group's "philosophies and world view regardless of the fact that [its] beliefs in no way impinge on the purpose and history of the parade."

Laguna Beach has promoted the parade and supported it with police services, placing "itself in the position of no longer being neutral as to the 1st Amendment rights" of the Minuteman representatives, the suit said.

The parade includes many groups and individuals that could be considered political, the suit continued, such as the South Orange County Vietnam Veterans, the Orange County Gay Men's Chorus and elected officials, including the mayor.

The group will seek a preliminary injunction next week ordering the city to allow its participation, said Minuteman attorney Richard Ackerman, who is working on the case for free. It is expected to be heard by Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell, he said.

City Atty. Phil Kohn said the city does not determine who is in the parade. If the Minuteman Project submitted an application to have a parade, the city would judge it fairly, he said.

The Minuteman group has staged citizen patrols at the Mexican border and participated in events, including ones in Laguna Beach, to protest illegal immigration and day laborer centers.

The two groups participating in the parade and named in the lawsuit are the Peace Vigil and the La Playa Center.

The Peace Vigil stages weekly protests against the Iraq war in Laguna Beach. The La Playa Center, run by the Cross Cultural Council, offers English classes and child care. The council also offers a day laborer center where immigrants can seek jobs, regardless of their immigration status.

Minuteman supporters including Gilchrist have protested the day laborer center.

Gilchrist's group contends the two groups are political in nature and that the Minutemen should be treated the same way. But parade organizers say the groups have participated in past years and avoided politicking.

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