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Why is the NYCLU threatening to sue the Village of Bellport?


NYCLU was present at all of the relevant public meetings so let’s see if we can shine some light on what’s going on.

For 23 years, this would have been the 24th year, the South Country Peace Group (SCPG) has conducted a march or parade starting at the cemetery on Station Road and Head Of The Neck and ending at the Village marina where speeches are made to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

In past years, the group applied for and was given a parade permit by the Village, which entailed the closing of Station Road and Bellport Lane in a southerly direction along with a police escort.

For some reason, which isn’t clear, this year the SCPG didn’t apply for a permit for the parade. When they realized they hadn’t applied for the permit, it was past the due date for applying for a parade permit and the group then contacted Village Hall and was given the necessary paperwork to fill out. This was just prior to the July 31, 2006 Village Board Meeting.

Spokespersons for the group asked at the Village Board Meeting on July 31, 2006 that even though their permit was late in being submitted, they be granted permission for the parade. They also pointed out that even though it wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the paperwork for the parade permit, they had been told by Village Hall that they would have to have 2 million dollars of liability insurance in order to be granted the permit.

The SCPG asked that the Village waive the insurance requirement, as they couldn’t afford it. The Village Board said that the Village’s insurance carrier required the extra insurance and that they really didn’t have any control over it. The Board told the SCPG that they would be glad to “fast track” the processing of the late parade permit if the additional insurance was secured by the group and suggested that they SCPG contact church groups in the area to see if they could be added to the church group’s insurance policy. The SCPG said that they didn’t think it was right for an insurance company to be making decisions as to who had the right to “free speech” based on an ability to pay for insurance and threatened the Village with legal action if the Village didn’t give in to their request for a parade permit without additional insurance.

Well, the SCPG’s approximately 25 members assembled at the cemetery on August 6th as usual. Rather than having a police escort and closing Station Road and Bellport Lane, they walked down the side of the road, and then on the Village’s sidewalks, until they reached the Village marina where they held their usual “public vigil.”

On August 23, 2006 the NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union) served the Village with a notice stating that if the Village didn’t rescind their insurance requirement by September 15, 2006, the NYCLU would sue the Village on the behalf of the SCPG. They maintained that the 1st Amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law which abridges the right of free speech” and they felt that the Village’s actions affected the SCPG’s right to free speech.

It should be noted that the Village of Bellport isn’t alone in requiring liability insurance from groups. The NYCLU pointed out that they are seeing a trend around the State where municipalities are requiring additional liability insurance in order for groups to use municipality facilities.

Considering that the SCPG was able to assemble at the cemetery, walk down Station Road and Bellport Lane, and assemble and speak at the Village marina, what seems to be at issue, and the two million dollars in insurance would have given them, is the police escort and the closing of Station Road and Bellport Lane. With the insurance, the group could have paraded in the middle of the street rather than walk down the side of the road and on the Village’s sidewalks. The SCPG maintains that the loss of the additional exposure walking in the middle of the street would have given them, abridged their right to free speech. We guess it will now be up to the courts to decide who is right.

We will post updates as more information becomes available.