Editor's Note: The below is an opinion piece submitted by Neil Cosgrove, Antidefamation Chair for the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), in response to IrishCentral's March 20 article "South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade needs 'major changes,' Councilor says."

The recent comments by Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn regarding the recent South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, calling for "major changes" or moving the parade "out of South Boston indefinitely," should be a wake-up call to the Irish American community. It is part of a sad trend and a growing threat to all those who cherish the traditional celebration of St. Patrick's Day that parades have come to symbolize.

Per Councilor Flynn, the local media, and other social media postings, behavior along the parade route appears to have been a drunken bacchanal. The key phrase is "along the parade route." Per Councilor Flynn, "Many of the spectators that come to the parade do not treat residents of South Boston with respect."

This raises two questions. First, what would Councilor Flynn's proposal to banish the parade to another location accomplish? Would not the "spectators that come to the parade" simply travel to the new location and continue to act like amadáns? Isn't this a classic example of the typical government tactic of shifting a problem from one area to another to give the appearance of action without a solution?

Second, how does Councilor Flynn propose that the hard-working volunteers who work tirelessly to put on a display of Irish Heritage that people of all backgrounds can enjoy control what happens on the sidewalks and beyond? The parade committee is not law enforcement; they are not selling intoxicating beverages. Mr. Flynn should be asking why the government he is part of is failing in its basic core responsibility to maintain law and order, not passing the buck to the parade committee. Why is Councilor Flynn calling for "major changes in the parade" and not appropriate police resourcing, calling for major changes in DUI and open container enforcement and penalties to those who sell booze to underaged minors and overserve their clients?

Sadly, Councilor Flynn's threat has precedent, and he and we should learn from it. Hoboken, NJ, used to have a very popular St. Patrick's Day parade until Mayor Dawn Zimmer canceled it in 2012. Mayor Zimmer's reasons at the time parallel Flynn's: the rowdiness of the parade spectators and Hoboken's inability to control post-parade activities. To her credit, Mayor Zimmer was more forthcoming in noting, "Things were under control during the parade itself," calling it a "beautiful celebration of Irish heritage."

The irony is that in the succeeding years since the Hoboken parade cancellation, the local bars (who shoulder no little responsibility for the rowdy behavior that led to the cancellation of the parade) immediately organized pub crawls such as "Lepra-Con" to fill the vacuum and their tills. Despite Mayor Zimmer's intention, all her canceling the parade achieved was to eliminate a "beautiful celebration of Irish heritage" and clear the way for more drinking and rowdy behavior.

Councilor Flynn would be wise to learn from Hoboken's example.

Parades are a fundamental part of our American culture. They are a clear expression of our rights as enshrined in our constitution. It is no coincidence that the United States claims the first St. Patrick's Day parade.

However, the sad trend we are witnessing is that local governments are increasingly throwing impediments to positive celebrations such as St Patrick's Day, which they would never consider raising if this was a protest demonstration. Arbitrarily segregating and prioritizing freedom of speech is a dangerous precedent. Celebrating Irish Heritage, or any other Heritage, should not be viewed as optional free speech or a luxury.

In this time of great division in our nation, we should not make it more difficult to celebrate as a community than to protest. For the Irish American community, we need to be concerned that what may be banned in Boston could be prohibited in our hometowns next. The right to celebrate our heritage in a St. Patrick’s Day parade is not a luxury; it is a constitutional right that too many Irish immigrants and Irish Americans fought and died for.