Parading through history

Did you know that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland, but was held in New York City on March 17, 1762.  According to, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through NYC proudly playing their music in order to show pride and reconnect with their Irish heritage, and other Irishman serving in the United States Army.  Then, “in 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly three million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants.” 

With tens of thousands of people attending, participating, drinking green beer, and generally having a good time at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations world-wide, inevitably something gets broken, damaged, destroyed, or just plain ol’ creamed.  However, in some states, such as Louisiana, the state legislatures specifically limit the liability for property losses connected with St. Patrick’s Day parades. For example, § 2796.1. Limitation of liability for loss connected with St. Patrick’s Day parades or any ethnic parade of the Louisiana code states,Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no person shall have a cause of action against any organization which presents St. Patrick’s Day parades or other street parades connected with any ethnic celebration … for any loss or damage caused by any member thereof or related to the parades presented by such organization, unless said loss or damage was caused by the deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence of the organization.”

Louisiana courts further define the scope of gross negligence in Tauzier v. St. Patrick Parade Committee of Jefferson, Inc., App. 5 Cir.2002, 807 So.2d 1106, 01-1138 (La.App. 5 Cir. 1/29/02) by summarizing that a  “sponsor of St. Patrick’s Day parade, in which float rider was injured when struck on head by speaker knocked from its mooring atop float by overhanging tree branch, was not guilty of gross negligence such as required to hold parade sponsor liable for loss or damages related to such parade, despite evidence that similar accident occurred on same float in preceding year; sponsor was aware of need for care and attempted to ensure that float complied with height restriction.” For more case law on this subject, run a search in your jurisdiction with this topic and key number: Public Amusement And Entertainment 79

Not only are there tort issues surrounding St. Patrick’s Day parades, but the Supreme Court has considered historical constitutional concerns raised in regards to the First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech as well.  In an article for the New England Law Review, Gretchen Van Ness wrote,

On June 19, 1995, in the case of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, 115 S. Ct. 2338 (1995), the United States Supreme Court handed down this unremarkable ruling: under the First Amendment, the state may not require private citizens who organize a parade to include in that parade a group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey. The Court’s unanimous pronouncement, presented in fewer than twelve pages of text, sidestepped the most compelling issues raised by the case and brought to an end a historic, even epic, three-year civil rights struggle that had occupied the attention of numerous courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts commission Against Discrimination (MCAD),   the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and, of course, the court of public opinion. In the course of over three years of litigation, two different stories were told about this Evacuation Day/St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Parade). The state court decisions tell one story, about an annual civic celebration, open to the public generally, that fell within the reach of the Massachusetts public accommodations law. Unwilling to give effect to the state’s anti-discrimination law, however, the United States Supreme Court decision tells a different story, about a private event and private actors fighting off gay extremists and government-imposed speech. What is the truth about this Parade? Perhaps it no longer matters, as the Supreme Court has spoken, and its words now tell the official history of this Parade. The incredible true story of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the United States Supreme Court, Gretchen Van Ness, 30 New Eng.L.Rev. 625 (1996).

Dwight G. Duncan supplements and adds to Van Ness’s sentiments with his own article, Parading the First Amendment through the streets of South Boston, 30 New Eng.L.Rev. 663 (1996).

Can you think of any other legal issues surrounding St. Patrick’s Day parades?

-Liz McCurry-

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