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Burk may send small groups to gates

4/10/2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A federal appeals court rejected Martha
Burk's emergency request to allow protesters outside the front gate
of Augusta National Golf Club.

The ruling Wednesday by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
came just hours before The Masters was scheduled to begin Thursday
morning.

Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations,
plans to protest Augusta National's all-male membership during the
third round Saturday.

She wanted to place picketers at the front gate of the exclusive
club, but Sheriff Ronald Strength would only approve a site a
half-mile away. He said it was unsafe to gather in front of the
club because of heavy congestion during the golf tournament.

The three-judge panel refused to grant Burk's emergency request
to block Monday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr.

Bowen upheld the city ordinance granting Strength the power to
regulate protests and also approved the sheriff's application of
the law in handling Burk's request.

Burk said her group had no other legal means to overturn the
decision before Saturday, though it will continue to fight the
constitutionality of the city ordinance in court.

''So, the circle is complete on cutting off our free speech
rights,'' she said. ''This was our last shot.''

Burk wanted to post 24 demonstrators outside the front gate of
Augusta National and 200 more across the street.

She believed that would be the most effective way to demonstrate
against Augusta National, which said again Wednesday that it has no
timetable to admit a female member.

Strength turned down Burk's request, citing safety concerns
along five-lane Washington Road. He said the protests would have to
be held a half-mile away -- at a grassy, 5.1-acre site donated by
the club.

A group headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson also has been approved
to protest at a second site even further away from the club's main
entrance.

In all, the sheriff's office has approved protest permits for
eight groups, including a splinter faction of the Ku Klux Klan and
People Against Ridiculous Protests.

Burk said the Georgia ACLU would have monitors at the protest to
ensure no one's rights are violated. She is concerned that the
ordinance gives the sheriff's office broad power to determine
what's legal.

''I'm disappointed that the wall of discrimination is so high
down there that local authorities, and even the judges, are willing
to conspire with the club, the mayor and the city commission to
deny us our free speech rights,'' the Washington-based Burk said.

''Clearly, they put this club over the Constitution. That ought
to be a concern for everyone in this country.''

Burk said her attorneys would study a possible loophole in the
ordinance that could allow fewer than five protesters to gather at
the gate without a permit.

"The way the ordinance reads, we could do it that way," Burk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But county attorney James Wall said that may not be possible: "Suffice to say, they won't be able to skirt (the law) by breaking into small groups."

In any event, she said her group would not do anything illegal
at Saturday's gathering.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.