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Fireworks before the Fourth


July Fourth. The words evoke images of the red, white and blue snapping in the breeze; sparklers spewing white-hot drizzle; a succulent, crimson slab of watermelon. And now add this: the spluttering of parade committees engaged in turf battles.

You're awaiting a show in the sky July Fourth. Get a load of the spectacle on the ground leading to it.

* The Catonsville July Fourth parade committee has denied permission to a gay and lesbian veterans group that wanted to participate, fearing that its inclusion would turn off spectators and contributors.

* The Towson parade committee has rejected the application of the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Alan Keyes, saying that only incumbent politicians can march.

* Doe-eyed children have picketed the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Co. in the hope of convincing the firefighters to exhibit some of their vehicles in the upcoming parade and end a squabble with the town's parade committee. The committee told the fire company to cut the number of trucks it brings to the popular parade to shorten the event. The fire company said choosing which firefighters could participate in a scaled-down parade was too great a burden and is opting to send no one. Other area fire companies, in a show of solidarity, have backed out too.

"Vat a country," Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian-born comic, might say. For a holiday meant to celebrate the core glories of this republic, at a time when the power and prescience of our forefathers' vision has never been more clear to the world, the parade people bring us timidity, prejudice and incommunicability.

We shouldn't be too hard on them, really. They are volunteers putting in numerous hours for the public's free entertainment. They also have the burden of making events run on schedule. Still, especially in the cases of the Catonsville and Bel Air parades, actions to "protect" the sanctity or fun of the events would seem to be having the opposite effect.

The excuses of the parade decision-makers are just that. In Catonsville, the organizers fret that inclusion of homosexual veterans could spark disturbances. "The minorities will ruin our celebration of equality and freedom," they seem to say. The committee officials dress up their prejudice in a gray beard, stilts and a stovepipe hat and call it patriotism. In Bel Air, meanwhile, the fire chiefs say they couldn't possibly determine how to exclude some members from marching even though they make judgments regularly on matters of life and death.

Parade chairmen, lighten up. We want bands and fire engines to rule the day, not bigotry. We want groaning picnic baskets, our weather dry and our fireworks spectacular. More importantly, if usually unspoken, we want our ideals upheld, our spirits enriched and our pride confirmed.

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