Falun Gong out of San Francisco New Year's Parade
Group lawsuit claims religious discrimination
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,"
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.
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