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Court to decide on Augusta protests

A court in Augusta, Georgia, will decide today where the protests against the all-male policies of the Augusta National golf club can take place during the Masters next week. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union will argue on behalf of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO) that the NCWO has the right to protest outside the gates of Augusta National and across the road from the main entrance to the club and not, as the Sheriff of Augusta has ordered, 1.4 miles from the club.

“I am hopeful that our case will succeed,” Martha Burk, the chairwoman of the NCWO, said. “Public opinion is with us. We have been granted permission to demonstrate on April 12, but we do not accept the place where we have been told we can do it. Augusta is dominated by Augusta National. Local officials are loyal to the club because it has control over the local economy. We want 12 protesters on either side of the main gate and a further 200 protesters across the street. This is a much larger issue than simply a men-only golf club being challenged by women about sexual discrimination.”

A full-page advertisement in the New York Times last Monday seemed to indicate that the dispute between Burk, who is critical of Augusta National because it has no women members, and Hootie Johnson, the chairman of the golf club, has assumed national interest. The advertisement, placed by a restaurant chain, offered Burk and Johnson a room in any of its restaurants in which to discuss their grievances.

The advertisement appeared on the same day that two members of the House of Representatives, from New York and Georgia, introduced a resolution in Congress saying that government officials should not belong to clubs that discriminate because of gender or race.

Last week, Burk said that American women fighting in Iraq could not become members of Augusta National, a linking of two issues that some considered in bad taste. “We have had e-mails from women who say it is wrong that they can be in the armed forces and not a member at Augusta National,” Burk said. “If the timing was wrong, I am sorry, but the sentiment was right.

“If Augusta National did not run the Masters, did not do business with the public, we probably would hold the same view but would not take issue with it,” Burk said. “It is technically a private club that does not function as a private club. It runs a public event. It is iconic in sport, not just golf. This is not about a few golfing friends out on the back nine. Augusta National runs a public, multimillion-dollar event.”

 

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