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ACLU Files Suit Against City of Augusta on Burks Behalf

Martha Burk's request to protest at Augusta National's front gate was denied Wednesday, prompting her to sue the city to get permission.
Burk rejected a compromise from Sheriff Ronald Strength that would have allowed her to use another nearby location to protest during the third round of the Masters on April 12 in Augusta, Ga.
Instead, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Burk's behalf. The suit says Augusta's law regulating public protests violates free-speech rights by investing 'virtually unbridled discretion in the sheriff to grant or deny a permit.'
The Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition applied through the sheriff for permission to place nearly 100 protesters near the club entrance -- the same spot Burk had requested.
Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, plans to stage a one-day protest against the private golf club's all-male membership.
She asked the sheriff last week for permission to post 24 protesters at the club's front gate and an additional 200 across the street. Strength offered a new location closer to the gate than sites previously proposed by the sheriff, but still not close enough for Burk.
'The men of Augusta National Golf Club come through the front gate,' Burk said in Atlanta. 'To influence those folks, that's where we need to be.'
Strength said the stretch of Washington Road directly facing Augusta National is too clogged by traffic to ensure safe protests.
'Every year with the masses of people around Augusta National Golf Club, we have many auto accidents -- some involving pedestrians -- during tournament week,' Strength said. 'We have the right and obligation to balance public safety issues with freedom of speech issues.'
Instead, he wants all groups protesting during the Masters to use a 5-acre tract in front of an apartment complex that's about 2,000 feet from the Augusta National front gate along Washington Road.
People traveling to the club from downtown Augusta would see the protesters on their way in, but those traveling from hotels east of town and from Interstate 20 would enter the club without passing the protest site.
Augusta National leases the property and agreed to let the sheriff reserve it for public demonstrations during the tournament.
The ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday, said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the Georgia ACLU chapter.
The suit seeks a temporary judge's order blocking the city from enforcing the protest ordinance, amended last month to require groups to apply 20 days in advance for permits to protest on city property. The law gives the sheriff power to approve or deny requests and to dictate the location of demonstrations.
Strength also gave two groups permission to protest at the location rejected by Burk. One is a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan based in Cordele, Ga., that supports Augusta National's all-male membership. The other is an anti-Burk group from Tampa, Fla.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the 2003 Masters Tournament
  • The Augusta National Debate: A Chronology
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