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October 11, 2002

Another Ten Commandments Brouhaha - Again

David 'Kip' Koontz

The Ten Commandments are in the center of yet another flap in Frederick City.

This time, a group called "Friends of Frederick" attempted to march in the "In the Street" parade carrying a banner reading, "Save the 10 Commandments" and was stopped from doing so.

Unfortunately, there really is no true way to know exactly what happened as one has to piece together the threads from so many disparate points of view - which are all in some way screened from that personís perceptual view which, of course, makes their "reality" meet their view.

First and foremost the biggest problem seems to be whether or not the banner reading "Save the 10 Commandments" is in anyway political in nature as all sides seem to agree that the "politicizing" of the groupís message is what caused the problem.

Frankly, to say that the issue over the placement of the Ten Commandment Monument in Frederick Memorial Ground has not become political in nature would be naÔve.

There are alderman in the City of Frederick and county commissioners who are politicking on this to beat the band.

At an event later on "In the Street Day" in front of the monument, a rally boasted umpteen candidates for office angling to appear in front of the faithful in order to court that constituencyís vote.

Additionally at that event supporters of State Senator Alex Mooney (it was obvious, they were wearing his shirts) were holding a big banner reading, "Where is Sue Hecht?" in an attempt to cast dispersions on his opponentís character.

This matter is political.

It wasnít a member of the Friends group who called on Frederick City to apologize; it was Mr. Mooney, trying to gain favor and votes, who did that.

Unabashed politics.

The In the Street committee has always had a policy, whether written or unwritten, that made it clear that only those who hold public office can be in the parade.

Yes, they are "political," especially during an election year, yet they were to be limited to signs simply stating who they are and the office they held.

Well, this year, and the "Friends of Frederick" folks have a point, Julie White, candidate for school board managed to weasel herself into the parade, even if the sign on the car only had her name on it, it was clear she was schlepping for votes as the sign was in the color and font of her campaign signs.

Same goes for Patrick Hogan and others, who were able to squeak by with their campaign websites on their "Hi, Iím Bippity the Elected One" signs, in smaller letters reading kind of like, ""

So, one does have to question why the Friends of Frederick folks were singled out under the "no politicking" rule in the parade while others were not?

Was it politics, or were they simply the only ones who happened to get noticed?

Maybe a bit of both, but, it seems that Friends of Frederick was noticed because the sign they displayed was obviously not the sign they had written they would carry on their application to enter the parade.

On their application, they said they would enter as "Friends of Frederick" and carry a sign identifying them as such.

They showed up carrying a banner that did not read "Friends of Frederick," rather one that read "Save The 10 Commandments."

As the parade proceeded, a committee member noticed the banner and questioned whether it was allowed under the "no politicking rule" and, thus, the confusion set in.

In talking with people from the Office of Special Events, their primary concern was the misrepresentation of the banner.

Now, the representatives of Friends claim they didnít know they were misrepresenting themselves as they claim they didnít know that when they wrote that they would march with a banner reading "Friends of Frederick" that the In the Street committee people would expect that banner.

They say it is not expressly stated in the application that "what you write here is what you will be expected to do."

Experience with this event, and in conversations with the Office of Special Events, points to that not being quite correct. It is said that every effort to make sure what sign, and how many people in the unit, what type of unit (car, float, band) you are, is ascertained in the application.

Experience has it that they will even to the point of giving verbal instructions in the attempt to make sure things are copasetic come parade time.

Unfortunately, as the matter was heating up, somewhere the reasoning ("you are not carrying the banner you said you would") got lost and became "you canít march because you are violating the Ďno politickingí rule."

That seems to be because by the time the committee member who raised the "hmmm, wrong sign with group question" asked that question, it got to Herzonner Jennifer Dougherty as the question of, "Are they breaking the no politicking rule?"

She was asked if they should be allowed to march.

Why did Herzonner get asked that question anyway?

The parade committee and Office of Special Events have, in the past, enforced the rules.

Again, someone somewhere viewed this as political in nature and skewed it that way - which helped escalate the situation.

The matter escalated after the call to Herzonner, who said they could not display a political banner, causing the group to be pulled from the line of march.

It seems the Friends people were not really given an explanation as to why.

They said that if they were not going to be given an explanation, they had a permit and a right to march and they would.

After the folks detaining the Friends got the word that the banner was unacceptable, those on site believed they needed some help in keeping things calm, so they called for police to come and help.

While it would be fun to accept the story thatís out there that claims Herzonner in a rage ordered Police Chief Kim Dine to "book Ďem, Danno!" it really didnít happen that way.

Thing is the police were put in the position of explaining to the group why they could not march and that clearly should have been the responsibility of the In the Street Committee and the Office of Special Events.

Unfortunately, the police were waiting for someone from the Office of Special Events to show up who could explain to them what was really going on.

After some time, which the Friends group wants you to believe occurred on purpose to prevent them from marching, the Events folks arrived. The delay was simply a matter of Events folks negotiating a parade in progress and crowds.

It seems they had the officer on the scene explain the "no politicking" rule to the group as the parade was rapidly passing by.

The Friends, clearly passionate about their cause and believing no legitimate explanation was being given as "they had a permit" and feeling their rights were being violated, told the officer, something along the lines of: "We have a right to march" and "We are being detained because of the Ten Commandments."

They became more irritated, agitated and animated as the thought of not being able to march became closer to reality.

Neil Parrott, of Friends, stated that he would practice his "personal act of civil disobedience" and reached for their banner, which the officer was holding and bumped, brushed, shoved or in some manner touched the officer, who in turn felt that he did so in a threatening manner and cuffed him and detained him in a squad car.

Mr. Parrott, in turn, continued to insist that his First Amendment rights were being violated and that he was only being detained because he supported the Ten Commandments - a point some politicians seem to agree with, if only to be able to make political hay out of a bad and misconstrued situation.

Point is, Mr. Parrott was not cuffed and "arrested" because of his beliefs but because he committed what is classified as 2nd degree assault on a police officer.

At this point, Herzonner, who had finished the parade, headed north and is said by all sides to have explained why the group was pulled from the parade using the "no politicking" rule, and then stated that having the groupís website on the banner violated a "you canít fundraise rule."

Huh? Websites are a mainstay of today.

Would the Red Cross - which was in the parade be denied the right to display its website address on its banner?

Mr. Parrott, though detained, was released and while he could have subsequently been charged by the Stateís Attorneyís office, he was not.

Some say he was detained solely to prevent his message from being heard and that is bunk.

He was detained in the squad car because contact - any type of contact with a police office - is considered a crime.

Curiously, Mr. Parrott admitted that day to overreacting and said he understood the position of the City, though after a few days of this fermenting he seems to be totally in the "our rights were violated" and "this only happened because we support the Ten Commandments" mode.

All said and done, it seems that this matter should never have been allowed to escalate to the point it has.

Why was Herzonner called to make the decision as to what to do when the In the Street Committee and Office of Special Events has the authority to enforce their rules?

Why wasnít a full explanation given immediately to the Friends in hopes they would understand and comply with the "wrong sign" rule?

Why, and how exactly did the "no politicking" rule become the one under which Friends were being held accountable when others were not?

Why were the police put in the position of having to settle this matter, when it seems other things could have been done that might have prevented this whole mess?

Mr. Parrott does express himself with a passion and he really, truly believes in his cause and that his right to march was violated.

As such, one can see how his animation/agitation in a stressful situation might have helped notch things up a bit by his insistence that he be allowed to march.

Isnít it possible that many of us, under the confusion of the circumstances, may be inclined in the heat and passion of the moment to do the same?

But we cannot forget that assaulting a police officer - no matter the circumstance - is inappropriate and illegal behavior.

In the end, it is simply a shame that this whole thing happened.

Seems there might need to be some serious review of In the Street policies and their application.

Maybe no elected officials should be allowed in the parade - especially in an election year.

Maybe no political party booths should be allowed.

Maybe a ban on leafleting, "stickering" people and sign waving should be imposed as well.

Maybe, no organization should be allowed to participate that represents any point of view at all.

Maybe In the Street has come to a point where it simply needs to re-examine its overall mission, as it seems that as it has expanded to allow more and different types of groups and individuals to participate, it has become increasingly difficult to define the who, what and whereís as to what is allowable and acceptable at In the Street.

Anyway, it is a shame that the Ten Commandments, of all things, are in the center of so many political brouhahas.

But, the tenets of religions, now and forever in the past, have been the cause of war, fighting and acts of terror.

In fact though, the Ten Commandments are simply supposed to be the tenets by which we strive to live our life - along, of course, with the additional rule Christ taught us, "do unto others as you would have done unto you."

A great goal to strive for that has seemingly been lost in our current political climate.

One might think that it would be easier to live by the Ten Commandments than fight over them.

Doesnít seem that way, does it?

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