DRACUT — The Dracut Republican Town Committee will be marching in the town’s Memorial Day Parade on May 27 after all, ending a rollercoaster that spanned two weeks.
Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier on Friday confirmed that the decision came after a discussion with town administration and representation from the American Legion Post 315. Forcier added that this opens up parade participation to other political groups as well.
“The Republican Town Committee’s application will be processed and they will be extended every courtesy and allowed to march,” Forcier said when reached by phone.
This latest twist comes after flip-flops that captivated the attention of many in town and angered Brian Genest, chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee. Two weeks ago, the committee was informed that Town Manager Jim Duggan was not allowing them to participate. Members of the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday strongly disagreed with Duggan’s decision at a meeting. Forcier during that meeting’s recess told a Sun reporter that the directive for Duggan was to allow the committee to march. The committee was barred once again the following day — this time by the American Legion Post 315. Richard Ducharme, commander of the Legion, said at the time that the organization puts on the event, while the town helps organize the order of bands and participants.
“This is a huge victory for free speech and for being able to honor our veterans,” Genest said on Friday. “I want to thank the Board of Selectmen for not letting the town manager get away with trying to make the parade political, trying to pass the buck, and trying to ignore the very clear directive from the selectmen.”
In response to Ducharme’s statement that the parade is backed by the Legion, Genest respectfully disagreed. “It’s not the American Legion’s parade,” he said. “This is Dracut’s parade. The Dracut taxpayers pay for this parade from start to finish.”
Duggan has previously said that he did not want to politicize the Memorial Day Parade, but confirmed the town’s decision and issued a statement via text message on Friday afternoon.
“I fully support the decision and I’m looking forward to a day where the men, women and families of our armed services are remembered for their ultimate sacrifice for this great nation,” Duggan said in the message.
State Rep. Colleen Garry, a Dracut Democrat, who is also legal counsel for Post 315, also confirmed the discussion she and Ducharme had with Duggan and Forcier Friday afternoon to permit the committee to participate.
“We felt that it was in the best interest of the town to move forward with the parade,” Garry said. “We hope that the committee respects that the parade is meant to honor fallen veterans and not advance a political agenda. We decided that for this year only we’ll go forward with the parade, but maybe next year it will be totally different.”
On April 26, Judicial Watch intervened on the committee’s behalf with a letter issued to Forcier stating that the parade is a “public function” and the town prohibiting the committee from participating was a violation of the First Amendment. Judicial Watch pointed out that parades are a form of expression that are afforded rights under the First Amendment, which also protects political speech. The letter also notes how the town dictates the parade as being open to individuals, businesses and organizations looking to advertise or promote themselves.
“Therefore, a political organization’s participation in the parade while displaying a sign that identifies itself as a political organization is political speech protected under the First Amendment,” the letter reads.
“Besides the fact that there was potential litigation, I think the majority of the board always thought from the beginning that this was the right way to do this,” Forcier said. “I think the board always had in their minds that we wanted to let them march.”
Forcier added that he has supported the committee marching in the parade since the beginning. “I’m glad to see this was resolved,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the Memorial Day Parade.”
Genest said the support has been tremendous and the committee plans on having a large group join them at the Memorial Day Parade. On Friday the committee ordered 500 pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution that members plan on passing out to parade-goers. They also plan on displaying a banner with the committee’s name and logo.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.