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Falun Gong out of San Francisco New Year's Parade

Group lawsuit claims religious discrimination

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

January 19, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Members of a spiritual movement forbidden in China hope a lawsuit filed a year ago will apply enough pressure on San Francisco leaders to allow the group to march in the annual Chinese New Year parade.

Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco claim in a lawsuit that they have consistently been denied entry into the annual parade based on the basis of religious discrimination.

The group claims that the use of city funds and resources for the popular event implicates the city.

The city attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the case based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that defends the right of parade organizers to include or exclude whoever they choose.

The case -- Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston -- sets a precedent that allows a private association to run a parade however they choose, according to Matt Dorsey with the city attorney's office.

That decision, which has already cleared the Chinese Chamber of Commerce -- the association that organizes the New Year's parade -- from any wrongdoing, should also clear the city of any discrimination charges, Dorsey said.

"The U.S. Supreme court ruled in the Hurley case that a parade is a private association with a First Amendment right to convey the message that they want to convey," Dorsey said. "It would be unconstitutional for the city to require a private association to include or exclude any group."

But lawyers for Falun Gong disagree. They say the San Francisco city charter prevents the city from using taxpayer dollars for political means and in essence, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is excluding Falun Gong because of political pressure from China.

According to Falun Gong organizer Sherry Zhang, the group consists of practitioners of an ancient Chinese meditation and self-improvement art that resurfaced a little over a decade ago in Mainland China.

The practice became popular virtually overnight, which attracted the attention and ire of the country's leaders. The practice was soon banned and thousands of practitioners were tortured and jailed for their beliefs, Zhan said.

"The Chinese consular general sits on the Chinese chamber of commerce," Zhan said.

"They want to create the image that Falun Gong is not accepted around the world when in fact there are over 100 million followers.

They're basically trying to repress Falun Gong everywhere."

Falun Gong has already been denied a spot in this year's Feb. 18 parade. In the past, the group was allowed to march behind the parade or plan their own demonstrations.

Critics of the group have accused them of being a homophobic cult, an accusation of which Zhang vehemently denies.

"Our goal with the lawsuit is not to punish the city, we just don't want them to use taxpayer money for something The city has the power to ask the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to correct," Zhan said.

The group plans a news conference Friday at 11:30 a.m. to bring further attention to their cause. The case was scheduled for Friday morning but it has been pushed forward to Jan. 30.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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