Vets plan challenge to protest judgment

Thursday, May 24, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A recent court ruling that upheld the right to protest at the Memorial Day air show will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a lawyer representing the Salute to Veterans Corp. said Wednesday.

Attorney Dale Doerhoff said the organization plans to ask the high court to hear the appeal. He said the petition will be filed by Aug. 6 to meet the 90-day window from the previous ruling.

Salute to Veterans, a not-for-profit organization, contracts with the city for the use of the tarmac at Columbia Regional Airport for the annual air show. The city provides police presence.

The city of Columbia, a defendant in the case, did not appeal the case to the federal court and therefore cannot pursue the case further. The lawsuit was filed after an incident at the 2004 air show where Bill Wickersham and Maureen Doyle were asked to leave the show by city police for protesting, leafletting and passing petitions.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city and Salute to Veterans on behalf of Wickersham and Doyle on the grounds that their First Amendment rights were violated.

The original ruling, which protected the right to protest and hand out leaflets but not petition, was appealed to a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Kansas City. That decision was then rejected by the full 11-judge panel May 8, making the last possible legal step an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A separate outstanding case will determine whether Salute to Veterans Corp. will pay Wickersham and Doyle’s legal fees. The last ruling decided that the plaintiffs’ estimated $200,000 in legal fees are the responsibility of Salute to Veterans. As part of the contract with Salute to Veterans, the city is protected from any legal costs related to the air show.

Doerhoff said that despite the continuing legal proceedings, the lawsuit did clarify certain issues on what is and isn’t allowed at the air show. Protests and leafletting is permitted, however during solemn events remembering lost soldiers, protesting and leafletting are not allowed.

“What the case really did was define relative rights for all people that have an interest in being out there,” Doerhoff said. “Everybody has an idea of how they will celebrate there. We would hope that everyone else will abide by the decision of the court and respect the rights of everyone else.”

For some, the celebration will mean protests. Since Wickersham and Doyle’s removal from the air show in 2004, protests have continued.

Steve Jacobs has carried an anti-war sign at every air show for about 10 years. Jacobs said he’ll be out this year protesting the new Virtual Army Experience video exhibit that pits teams of players against terrorists.

“It’s interesting that with Columbine, before the kids did their massacre, they spent hours and hours practicing on their computers,” Jacobs said. “The Army has figured out a way to get kids to practice killing. The Army seems to be taking a similar tactic.”

Jacobs said the Virtual Army Experience is a high-tech recruiting tool for teenagers.

Doerhoff said the exhibit might be a recruiting tool, but a Department of Defense rule requires that if aircrafts are provided for a community event like the air show, there must be recruiters on the grounds.

In recent years, anti-war protesters faced counterprotesters called “Operation Simply Shred.” Volunteers offered the use of battery-powered shredders to visitors with unwanted anti-war leaflets and carried signs supporting the troops.

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