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Town, American Legion Reverse Decision On Memorial Day Parade

May 04, 2019 09:50PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – In the latest plot twist, the Dracut’s Republican Town Committee is now allowed to march in the May 27 Memorial Day Parade after Board of Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier notified the committee that its “participation form has been processed and approved,’’ according to a statement posted on the DRTC’s Facebook page.

The about face comes in the wake of Judicial Watch, a conservative political watchdog group, sent Forcier an April 26 letter challenging the decision to bar the DRTC from marching.

The Judicial Watch letter states:

Based on several media reports over the past few days, it has come to our attention that the town is prohibiting political organizations from participating in the Town of Dracut Memorial Day Parade on May 27. This prohibition violates the First Amendment.

As you are aware, political speech is protected speech under the First Amendment. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that parades are a form of expression also afforded First Amendment rights. Therefore, a political organization's participation in the parade while displaying a sign that identifies itself as a political organization is political speech protected under the First Amendment.’’

This latest reversal allowing the DRTC to march comes after weeks of back-and-forth where Town Manager Jim Duggan initially barred the DRTC from marching because it is a political organization.

Duggan maintained his objective was to have the parade honor veterans who have “made the ultimate sacrifice’’ and not to politicize the event. He suggested that allowing one political group to march is a slippery slope that “will evolve into’’ a political venue for anyone running for office.

After selectmen directed Duggan to rescind the ban, Duggan reached out to Dracut’s American Legion Post 315, which runs the parade. The post’s commander confirmed the DRTC was not allowed to march because the Legion is not affiliated with any political groups.

But Milton K. Lashua, department adjutant of The American Legion Department of Massachusetts, told YourDracutToday, “The American Legion Department of MA doesn't decide who marches in local town parades, it's usually up to the town parade committee.’’

In its letter, Judicial Watch states: “It is irrelevant that the town now claims that the parade is organized by the American Legion and not the town. There is no evidence of that. First, the town's website refers to the parade as the ‘Town of Dracut Parade.’ Second, as noted above, the website also says that the Veterans' Service Office and the Senior Center, both government entities, are organizing the parade. Third, to register, participants are to complete a form and return it to the Council of Aging Director, a town official. Fourth, there is no mention of the parade on the National American Legion website or the local American Legion Post 315 website or their social media pages.’’

And finally, “American Legion Department of Massachusetts has said that it does not decide who marches in local town parades and that that decision is usually made by the town parade committee. In short, the parade is a public function and must comply with the First Amendment.’’

In response to the invitation to march in the parade, DRTC Chairman Brian Genest posted on the group’s Facebook page, “The DRTC is a group of patriotic town citizens and to deny our group the right to march is just plain wrong. We support our veterans, our community and our country. Our organization isn’t asking for special treatment; we’re asking for fair and equal treatment – to be able to participate with the other organizations, elected officials, businesses, scout troops, sports groups and everyone else in town.’’

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