Restrictions on Christmas parade participation raise organization’s ire
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Staff Reporter

Just two years after praising Saraland for allowing him to march in its Christmas parade, a local Confederate group leader told elected officials his rights were violated by last-minute limitations.

Ben George, commander of the Lee-Moses-Dixon Vindicator Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Saraland City Council on Tuesday that his group had marched two previous years and were all set to go again this month with a float, Confederate flags, eight soldiers and two women in hoop skirts when the parade organizer ordered no marchers and no flags.

George pulled the entire float.

"If you talk about celebrating our diversity, you’ve got to include us," he told the council. He was accompanied by eight or 10 supporters. "If you don’t speak out, then you are part of the problem. This will not go away until we have the same rights as everyone else."

Council President Howard Rubenstein pointed out that the city does not fund the Christmas parade, except for a one-time $3,000 payment to repair some floats.

"This is not an arm, at this point, of city government," he said.

The parade is sponsored by the Saraland Civic Forum, comprised of civic groups such as the Saraland Lion’s Club, the Saraland Area Chamber of Commerce and the Saraland Women’s Club, said parade chairman Bill Silver. Each group sends two members and pays $25 a year. The city also pays dues and has two members. Each float pays $25 to cover the cost of advertising and trophies, Silver said.

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a privately run Irish-American group in Boston had the right to exclude a gay and lesbian group from participating in its St. Patrick’s Day parade. George declined to comment on how the Saraland situation differed.

"I’m not a lawyer," he said.

He said any law-abiding group that meets the criteria set by parade organizers ought to be allowed to march in the parade. He declined to say whether he believed the term "law-abiding" applied to gays and lesbians.

Rubenstein said he wanted to hear the other side before taking any action.

Silver, reached by telephone, said he told George to pare down his entry because of an incident in a previous year when a paradegoer objected loudly to the float’s presence. The marchers and their large battle flags violated a previous agreement allowing the group to parade, he said.

"The Christmas parade is a time for children and a time for joy and happiness and we didn’t want anything in the Christmas parade that would be offensive to anyone or even a hint of causing some problems," he said.

Critics of the battle flag say it’s offensive because it’s a symbol of slavery. Defenders dispute that, contending that it’s a symbol of heritage.

Rubenstein said he may ask the city to get more closely involved with the parade and that elected officials will discuss the matter in public with the civic forum in January.

"It does sound like there are major problems," he said.

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