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Sons of Italy® Charges Colorado Jury Verdict Trashes the First Amendment

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900 kcafiero@osia.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. - February 1, 2005 The Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA) has issued a strong protest of the Jan. 20 jury verdict that acquitted eight political activists, who disrupted the 2004 Columbus Day parade in Denver.

OSIA is the nation's oldest and largest organization for men and women of Italian heritage.

In a statement issued through its anti-defamation arm, the Commission for Social Justice®, OSIA called the protestors' acquittal "irresponsible" and warned that "this miscarriage of justice will have serious repercussions not only for future Columbus Day parades but for the right of Americans everywhere to exercise free speech."

Last year, 239 activists blocked the Oct. 9 Columbus Day parade, organized by local Italian American organizations, including the Sons of Italy®, and ignored police orders to disband.

The protestors were led by Glenn Morris, chairman of the political science department at the University of Colorado (Denver) and Ward Churchill, a professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado (Boulder), who were later charged with loitering and disobeying a police order.

Morris is also director of the American Indian Movement of Colorado. Churchill is the author of a controversial essay, Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Issued days after 9/11, in it, he calls the terrorist attacks "justified" and describes the victims as "little Eichmanns" after the Nazi who helped mastermind the Holocaust.

During their trial, Morris, Churchill and six other defendants argued that celebrating Columbus Day constitutes hate speech and that the parade was an act of "ethnic intimidation" that celebrated the destruction of Native American culture.

In its statement, the Sons of Italy® dismissed these claims as "ridiculous." "What's next? Protesting the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving? Clearly, these activists are using Columbus as the straw man for their own political and social agendas—agendas which, apparently, do not include respecting the rights of others or the Constitution."

This was not the first time that Native American activists disrupted the Denver parade, reports OSIA Colorado State President Pam Wright. "They threw balloons filled with red paint at marchers in the 1991 parade so the parade was cancelled for about 8 years," she said.

The parade was revived in 2000, thanks to legal action taken by the Sons of Italy® to ensure the organization's right to a parade permit. However, that parade also was disrupted, resulting in the arrest of 139 people whose cases were later dismissed.

Declaring the Denver verdict "a great victory," the Native American activists now are lobbying the state government to change Columbus Day to "All Nations Day."

"Columbus Day is already ‘all nations day'," says OSIA National President Joseph Sciame, "because it commemorates the arrival of people of all races, religions and cultures on these shores."

The Sons of Italy® plans to oppose any measure that would change the name of Columbus Day or interfere with Columbus Day celebrations, according to Sciame.

Established in 1905, OSIA has more than 600,000 members and supporters and a network of 700 chapters coast to coast.

OSIA works at the community, national and international levels to promote the heritage and culture of an estimated 26 million Italian Americans, the nation's fifth largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To learn more, visit OSIA on the Web at www.osia.org.

The Commission for Social Justice® (CSJ) is the anti-defamation arm of OSIA. The CSJ fights the stereotyping of Italian Americans by the U.S. entertainment, advertising, and media industries. It also promotes the achievements and contributions of Italian Americans to the U.S. through research and public education programs.