Burk Appealing Ruling

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Martha Burk criticized a judge who barred her group from protesting at the front gate of Augusta National, saying Tuesday that 'party revelers are taking precedence over legitimate protesters.'
 
Burk, who wants Augusta National Golf Club to admit its first female member, plans to appeal two separate rulings by U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr.
 
'I think it's clear they acted in the best interests of the city and the club rather than the best interests of the First Amendment,' Burk said in a telephone interview.
 
Burk, working with the Georgia chapter of the ACLU, will ask a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Bowen's rulings before her scheduled Masters protest.
 
Time is drawing short. The tournament begins Thursday, and Burk's group is planning to protest during the third round Saturday.
 
'I'm a little surprised,' Burk said. 'I didn't think they would be so blatant acting in the club's interest and not the public interest.'
 
Burk wants to protest outside the main entrance of the club, believing that would give her cause maximum exposure. But the sheriff, citing safety concerns, said her group will be restricted to a site about a half-mile away.
 
City attorney Jim Wall praised the rulings.
 
'Certainly we are pleased the court upheld the validity of the ordinance and the validity of decisions the sheriff made as far as public safety issues,' Wall said.
 
Meanwhile, heavy thunderstorms kept golfers from getting on the course Monday. The gates never opened to fans, either - the first time that's happened during Masters week since 1983.
 
While the skies were still dark and threatening, the rain held off Tuesday morning. Fans were allowed inside and the course opened for practice rounds.
 
Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations, wanted to post 24 demonstrators outside the front gate of Augusta National and 200 more across the street.
 
Sheriff Ronald Strength, who has broad authority over public protests, said there's too much traffic in front of the club during the tournament to ensure safe protests.
 
Strength told Burk and other groups they must gather at a 5.1-acre site nearly a half-mile from the gate.
 
A group headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson also has been approved for a second site even further away from the club's main entrance.
 
ACLU lawyers challenged the ordinance, saying it gives the sheriff too much power to approve or deny protests and dictate their location.
 
Bowen sided with the city in two separate rulings Monday.
 
'The ordinance does not discriminate against a particular viewpoint or limit speech to certain subject matters,' he wrote in a 17-page decision.
 
In a second ruling, Bowen said the sheriff acted properly to enforce the ordinance.
 
The judge called the area outside Augusta National 'profoundly congested' during the Masters and said allowing protesters to congregate outside the gate presents 'a realistic, plausible, even probable potential for some accidental injury.'
 
Augusta National maintained that it had no interest in the court case.
 
'As we have said all along, any demonstrations that take place outside our grounds are a matter solely for local authorities,' club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said.
 
The sheriff's office has approved protest permits for eight groups.
 
Burk and Jackson plan to demonstrate against the all-male membership. Two groups have received permits to protest against Burk. Another group plans to protest against Jackson. A one-man faction of the Ku Klux Klan, who lists Tiger Woods as his favorite golfer, will support Augusta National's rights to private membership.
 
Another man wants to demonstrate in support of President Bush's war policy.
 
Then there's Deke Wiggins and his 'People Against Ridiculous Protests.' Their permit has been approved, too.
 
Scott Hoch, comfortably dry in the locker room as rain soaked the course Monday, wasn't concerned about what's going on outside.
 
'We're concerned with how we're going to play here,' he said.
 
The few players who hung around the clubhouse chatted about the rain, the course and the war in Iraq. On the big screen in the grill room, CNN was showing images of the war.
 
'We're thinking and worrying about our people in Iraq,' Hoch said. 'Even the golf tournament is minuscule compared to that.'
 
The sight of American troops under fire in Iraq has cast a somber tone on the tournament, Hoch said.
 
'This is just a game,' he said. 'Over there, they're playing for their lives.'
 
Woods, who will try to become the first player to win three straight Masters, did not show up Monday. Still, it was a good day for him because of all the rain.
 
The damp grass will make the course play even longer than its 7,290 yards, a big advantage for Woods and other big hitters.
 
Some fans milled outside the gates for hours before being told they would not be allowed inside. Masters officials said fans will be sent refunds in May and given preference to buy practice tickets for next year.
 
'We are disappointed that our patrons could not enjoy today's practice round,' Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said. 'However, our first concern must be safety.'

 
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