Tuesday, November 28, 2000

City can't block Klan cross

Lawyers advise council not to deny constitutional rights

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The threat of personal lawsuits by the Ku Klux Klan kept Cincinnati officials Monday from denying the Klan a permit to erect a cross on Fountain Square.

        After weeks of attempts to find legal grounds to deny the Klan's Dec. 2 permit, city lawyers told City Council it has “no choice but to approve the application and issue the permit.”

Legal liability
               If not, they cautioned that each council member who agreed to deny the permit — and deny the group's First Amendment right to free speech — could lose protection provided to legislators and be held liable for punitive damages if a lawsuit were filed.

        That's because they say the city is bound by a permanent court injunction from preventing the Klan or anybody else from erecting a cross on Fountain Square.

Media cooperation asked
               So instead, council members and the city manager are telling the media to ignore the Klan in news reports.

        “By ignoring them ... that would deny them what they are really trying to achieve,” City Manager John Shirey said.

        Other council members agreed and asked the manager to draft a resolution asking the media to agree to a news blackout on the Klan.

        Mr. Shirey said Monday that he has no choice but to grant the permit.

        Otherwise, the only way to stop the Klan would be to bar all groups from having displays on Fountain Square, Mr. Shirey said.

Fighting words
               Several reasons for blocking the Klan have been raised, including the group's record as a “terrorist organization,” its violation of laws prohibiting masks, and its use of rhetoric to inspire fighting and violence. Deputy Solicitor Bob Johnstone said none of these reasons is compelling enough to overturn court rulings in favor of the Klan.

        Some groups are planning alter native, peaceful protests to draw attention away from the Klan's cross.

        The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, along withchurches and organizations involved in social justice causes, will hold a prayer vigil in shifts from Dec. 2 to Dec. 10.

        Groups of half a dozen or so will stand on the square and pray silently.

        A coalition of the Blue Chip Young Republicans and the Hamilton County Young Democrats also wants to set up a booth in the square Dec. 1-10 focusing on freedom of speech and religion “as a juxtaposition to the hatred and divisiveness of the Klan.”


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