A federal district judge issued a disappointing decision Monday, ruling in favor of new Augusta city protest laws that prohibit demonstrations at the Augusta National Golf Club’s front gate “in the interest of public safety.” Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, alleging that the recently passed city protest rules–which limit the types of protests, grant full discretion over the issuance of permits to the county sheriff, and indemnify the county against all losses, regardless of fault–are unconstitutional. Earlier, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength denied Burk’s request to protest the Masters Tournament at the front gate. Instead, he offered her a protest site half a mile away on five acres owned by Augusta National. Augusta National downplayed the conflict of interest, saying it was cooperating with the county in the interest of public safety, reported USA Today.
With the Masters competitive round set to begin this Thursday, city residents are bracing themselves for the charged atmosphere. The Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that some women in Augusta blame the NCWO for the city’s financial and emotional losses. Allison Greene of “Women Against Martha Burk” told AFP, “It’s important she knows how she has hurt women in this city.” In the past, Burk has responded, “I regret Hootie Johnson and the members of the Augusta National are willing to hurt small businesses and women-owned businesses in their determination to discriminate.” When asked about the pressure surrounding Tiger Woods, Greene insisted, “Racial discrimination is not OK. It’s not tolerable at any level. Gender borders are completely OK,” reported AFP.
Augusta National is the site of the Masters, an event sanctioned by the PGA Tour, though the PGA does not own or run the Masters. The NCWO argues that by sanctioning an event held at a club that practices blatant discrimination with a male-only membership policy, the PGA violates its own anti-discrimination policies. Moreover, there is “corporate hypocrisy that surrounds, feeds and creates this event,” said Burk to the New York Times.
The Feminist Majority is a member of NCWO, along with 152 other groups–making its total membership close to seven million.