CRESTVIEW — Designating Christmas parade participants’ positions and providing a roster of entrants to the public are two ways the Main Street Crestview Association may curb patrons’ disappointment with controversial entrants, members said Wednesday.
The committee plans to speak with city attorney Jerry Miller and city council members before making formal decisions on the matter.
Members evaluated last weekend’s parade, which drew criticism from a number of News Bulletin readers offended by Save Me from the Fire ministry’s truck. Student minister James Forrester shouted disparaging remarks about homosexuals, said Santa Claus isn’t real and damned parade attendees to hell.
Following the parade, the News Bulletin’s website, crestviewbulletin.com, and its Facebook page received hundreds of comments expressing outrage from the incident. The Main Street Crestview Association’s City Hall-based office also has received comments from concerned residents.
"We didn't want people to think that we are just going to turn a blind eye to this," Main Street member Rae Schwartz said. "I came with some concerns and I want to help fix it."
Other members at Wednesday’s meeting included Main Street President Ellis Conner, Patti Gonzo, Viola Owens, Cal Zethmayr and Pat Hollarn.
The group discussed possible steps to prevent a similar situation from happening at future Christmas parades.
Zethmayr suggested changing the application’s wording.
"We should put in the application for next year that (Main Street Association) has the right to designate where any unit goes, period." Zethmayr said. "Accept it or don't be in the parade."
Zethmayr suggested making the roster of entrants, by order of procession, available to the public, so people could leave early if they disagreed with an organization’s message.
"You can't legally restrict anybody (from being in the parade), because you are going to put the city in a lawsuit," he said, referencing conclusions he arrived at from discussions with city council members. “It's the city's parade that we organize."
Whether such perceived legal implications actually exist remains to be seen.
"I haven't looked into this matter; therefore, I cannot comment on it," Miller said.
Save Me from the Fire applied for Christmas parade entry in Bay Minette, Ala., but North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce organizers denied the request based on an unpaid $10 float fee, according to Mobile-based TV station Fox 10. The South Alabama chamber reserves the right to deny any application based on unpaid fees or indications that an applicant wouldn’t align with the parade’s theme, Fox10tv.com reported.
Nevertheless, all Main Street Crestview members on Wednesday wanted to avoid potentially violating anyone’s First Amendment rights.
"I think that we can reasonably … determine the placement of those units at the end of the parade," Conner said.
However, Hollarn expressed caution.
"This situation had to be handled carefully; that's why we need to work with the city council," she said.
Hollarn said she was horrified when she had heard about the shouting incident.
"This is part of Crestview becoming bigger," she said. "This is probably only the beginning of certain things like this happening."
Still, each organization should receive the same courtesy, she said, adding, "Not one moment of hostility can be shown towards any group.”
Wednesday, Save Me from the Fire, a Washington-based ministry, responded to Crestview residents’ furor with a statement on its website, savemefromthefire.org.
“Your controversy is with the Lord God, not with us,” Brian Gaines, a Pensacola student minister, said. “We faithfully spoke the truth according to His word in your fair town, knowing that it pleased God.”
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.
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