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Federal Judge Asked to Overrule Protest Prohibition

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Just 10 days before Martha Burk plans to protest at the Masters, her attorneys asked a federal judge to override the sheriff's decision to prohibit her from demonstrating at the front gate of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, wants thousands of golf fans to walk by her protest against Augusta National's all-male membership.
But sheriff Ronald Strength says the closest Burk can legally protest is a five-acre site just under a half mile from the gate. A city law revised last month gives Strength broad authority to regulate protests.
Burk's lawyers told U.S. District Court Judge Dudley Bowen that Burk was denied access to public property outside the gates because Augusta wants to protect its image - not public safety, as the sheriff has said. Burk was not at the hearing.
One of Burk's lawyers, Sarah Shalf, said, 'This is an embarrassing protest and I'm sure the city would rather it be moved up the street where there are fewer people around to see it. The only reasons given here are basically inconvenience and annoyance.'
Augusta officials deny they've trampled Burk's free speech rights. They say the busy street in front of Augusta National is crammed with pedestrian and vehicle traffic during the tournament, making it too dangerous for protesters.
An attorney for the city of Augusta, Jim Ellison, said it is the paramount duty of the government to provide for public safety. He said, 'These types of ordinances do not restrict free speech rights. They provide for the orderly exercise of those rights.'
Strength, who has approved permits for about 900 protesters from various groups during Master's week, testified that he never considered allowing protests at the front gate or across the street.
Burk's protest is planned for Saturday, March 12, the third day of the Masters Tournament.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the 2003 Masters Tournament
  • The Augusta National Debate: A Chronology

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