San Francisco - A state appeals court has upheld the right of the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce to exclude the Falun Gong spiritual group from street fairs related to the chamber's annual Chinese New Year Parade in the city.
The Court of Appeal, in a ruling issued in San Francisco on Friday, said the chamber's annual street fair and flower fair are protected by the right of free speech in the same way as the parade.
A three-judge panel said the chamber therefore had the right to exclude groups whose messages it disagreed with.
The court said, 'The First Amendment bars the government from compelling the chamber to include in the presentation of its message the very different message communicated by Falun Gong.'
The chamber said it barred Falun Gong, which is banned in China, from the events because it has a policy of excluding groups with a political message.
Falun Gong, which promotes a meditation and self-improvement practice, argued that the street fairs, unlike the parade, were not free-speech events and that it was discriminated against in violation of the state's civil rights law. It sued the chamber after being excluded from the street fair as well as the parade in 2006.
Falun Gong spokeswoman Sherry Zhang said she had not seen the ruling, but said, 'It's clear in our mind that it is discrimination to ban Falun Gong simply because it is persecuted in China.'
She said the group may pursue a further appeal and said, 'We're still hoping that one day we'll be allowed in the parade.'
Chinese Chamber of Commerce attorney Randy Riddle said, 'This is an important decision for First Amendment rights.'
Riddle said the street and flower fairs 'are intended to communicate messages about Chinese traditions, culture and values' and said the chamber had a right to exclude inconsistent messages.