Hate speech has long protected free speech in the US. That is, the big Supreme Court cases involving First Amendment protections usually involve someone’s right to say, print or otherwise express the vilest notions. One of the big free speech decisions came in Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969, a case involving a Klansman’s right to spew hatred galore. A great book on the subject of hate having to be protected in order to protect all free expression is Fred W. Friendly’s Minnesota Rag. The USSC’s 1995 decision allowing the South Boston Allied Veterans’ Council to put the kibosh on gays in their parade is part of this tradition.
South Boston and the city as a whole are a generation past this kind of bigotry and bullying. “The time has come for the St. Patrick’s Day parade to enter the 21st century,” writes Southie native and neighborhood champion Peter Gelzinis in today’s Boston Herald.
Clearly, the Allied Veterans should be allowed a permit, in our Cradle of Liberty, to express just about anything they wish in order to honor St. Patrick and the city’s Catholic Irish heritage. But there is a lot of hiding behind the First Amendment going on and most of it’s patently phony. In thinking about messages that have been in the parade over the decades it would appear the only messages St. Patrick would find offensive can be found on banners supporting equality.
I read in today’s Boston Globe that Mayor Walsh had “talks” with John J. “Wacko” Hurley and one of of Hurley’s minions about opening up the parade to gay groups. “Talks.” Is Hurley a sovereign? Or maybe a car pulled up to the mayor as he stood on his street in Savin Hill, and a gravelly voice from the back seat said, “Get in. Wacko wants to talk.” Talks. For crissakes.
The heretofore secret Wacko summitry apparently bogged down over what has become the organizers’ slogan: “9-0.” That was the Supreme Court vote in 1995, supporting the Allied Veterans’ Council’s First Amendment rights as a privately-run parade to exclude whatever messages they wished to exclude. David Souter wrote for the USSC majority that the Council has a right to control its own message, to limit it to military units, crosses and shamrocks if they prefer. Hurley swung his 9-0 hurley at the Mayor’s good intentions and smashed them to smithereens.
Gay people can get married even in Texas but they can’t march in a parade on Broadway, South Boston in @)!$ (2014). I certainly don’t wish to be a bother. But in my opinion the situation is, to wear out a term, wacko.
The time is past when the politically courageous thing to do was to just refuse to walk in the Southie parade because organizers will not admit overtly gay-related groups, including military veterans’ groups. Even former Mayor Menino’s boycott, while courageous in the 90’s, milked the refusenik thing for his last couple of years. We as a city spend a lot of money to enable the parade to proceed. Hooligans have in times past marred the event. It takes a slew of police, public works, EMS, fire and other public servants to make it safe from whiskey- and beer-infused foolishness.
It is time for a long look at the proportionality in the permitting process. As it does every day, municipal government needs to balance individual and community interests. The Allied Veterans would say that no group pays its full share, in economic terms, for the services they receive. They would be right. For example, they do not pay for the training, equipment and support services even for the public servants they hire on so-called private details. And events of the magnitude of a Southie Parade or the Pride parade always involve on-duty personnel.
Free speech is priceless. For my money it is THE foundation of our republic. But vehicles to project speech beyond earshot cost money that somebody has to pay. Let’s take an honest look at what the Allied Veterans’ religious expression actually costs us and how much they are willing to put money where their mouths are.