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Proposed ordinance could block Confederate flag from parades in Canton

Like many traditions in Canton, parades and celebrations have been a part of the town for a long time.

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Rob Bradley
CANTON, N.C. — Like many traditions in Canton, parades and celebrations have been a part of the town for a long time.

But, it was the display of the Confederate Battle Flag in this year's Labor Day Parade that may change what can go down Main Street forever.

"I received concerns from citizens within the town of Canton and also individuals from outside the town who came to enjoy the festivities and be a part of our Labor Day celebration," said Dr. Ralph Hamlett, an alderman with the town of Canton.

It was those concerns and complaints that led Hamlett to draft an ordinance that would limit what could be displayed in municipal parades.

"The individuals, I'm sure, who were in the parade with the displays did so not intending any harm at all. They had their cause. But I can understand how, in our town, when, unfortunately, nerves run raw that we've got to be respectful of all people and we've got to take steps that make sure that the displays we use don't offend any ethnic group," Hamlett said Wednesday.

The ordinance proposes three pages of rules and regulations to make sure those entering parades know what to expect.

The third rule that could block Confederate flags reads:

3) Entries must be appropriate for diverse family audiences:

a) An entry may not include any image or content that includes nudity, profanity, lewdness, illegal drugs, violence, obscenity, hate, racism, or that is vulgar or sexually explicit, insulting or offensive to any ethnic, religious, political or other identifiable group or individual, or that may incite violence or other disrupted behaviors not conducive to a celebratory theme as determined by parade official(s) or law enforcement personnel;

"The display has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol," Hamlett said.

But some residents in Canton said the flag is just part of their tradition.

David Mann has lived in town his entire life.

"That Confederate flag is just as important to those people as these other people who don't want it," Mann said. "Let the trucks come through with the flag, there's nothing wrong with it."

Mann and several others also expressed concerns that the ordinance would violate their First Amendment right.

"I mean, around here, I always thought it was freedom of speech and sort of do, as long as you don't break the law, do what you want to do," Mann said. "I have plenty of relatives that died for that freedom of speech. I served my own self for that freedom of speech."

Hamlett said that isn't the case, but the ordinance is under review by the town attorney to be sure.

"Now, individuals who may be troubled, who may feel like their First Amendment rights are being taken away from them, they're not," Hamlett said. "Included within the rules and regulations there is an opportunity, if they want to be involved in some sort of parade themselves, they can ask the town for a permit for time, place and manner."

The text Hamlett is referring to reads:

b) Advocates for causes that fall outside the nature of celebratory events designed for diverse family audiences may petition law enforcement or the governing body for an appropriate venue for expression of their cause consistent with established First Amendment precedents concerning 'time, place, and manner.'

The rules would only apply to municipal parades, which Hamlett said need to be inclusive.

"The very nature of the parade itself is celebratory event to bring all people together, not to divide."

Hamlett believes the town attorney will finish reviewing the document soon and it should be up for discussion and a possible vote at the next Town Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9.

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