White supremacists test limits of US rights to free speech, assembly
(Page 2 of 2)
``We must prove that the crime was carried out maliciously and with the intent to intimidate a person because of race, color, or creed,'' Ms. Shuler says. Law-enforcement officials say Idaho's statute has discouraged racist acts since it was approved by the Legislature in 1983. The first case to be prosecuted under the law, involving alleged assault on a black man in Coeur d'Alene, is expected to come to trial this week.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Religious freedom. A theological system known as Christian Identity has become more prevalent among white-supremacist groups in recent years, say organizations that monitor racial extremists in the US. The Christian Identity movement, led by about a dozen self-appointed ministers scattered across the US, maintains that Jews are children of Satan and that whites are the true Israelites named in the Bible. The two sides, adherents say, are locked in a struggle for America and the world.
``Identity is a good excuse to be a racist and still be able to call yourself a Christian,'' says Bill Stanton of Klanwatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights law firm in Montgomery, Ala. ``It's a more marketable way to sell these ideas.''
Courts so far have been understandably reluctant to determine whether Christian Identity is a socio-political veneer for racism or a valid religious movement, protected by the First Amendment. The flashpoint has been state prisons, where Christian Identity churches such as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian (Aryan Nations) have worked to recruit converts. Recent cases - in Arkansas, Missouri, Idaho, North Carolina, and Illinois - have involved the rights of such prison inmates to hold services, to receive and distribute racist church literature, and to be counseled by church ministers.
In general, the US Supreme Court has ruled that when prison security is at stake, courts should defer to the expert opinion of prison administrators, the ACLU's Mr. Goldstein says. Lower courts have made similar decisions in most of the recent court cases involving white-supremacist inmates. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled in an Arkansas case that the inmates' beliefs were religious in nature and therefore entitled to First Amendment protection.
Right to bear arms. In recent years, some states have enacted legislation to outlaw paramilitary training. Although the laws apply to all types of organizations, they have been particularly effective against militant white-supremacist groups.
The accumulation of weapons by such groups is ``alarming,'' going well beyond the right to bear arms, says Bill Baker, assistant director of public affairs for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He terms the stockpiling of weapons, coupled with an increasing propensity for violence among extremist groups, an explosive combination. The ACLU, which has studied the issue, says bans on paramilitary training are not inherently unconstitutional. The right to bear arms is a collective right of citizens of a state to maintain a militia, not an individual right, Goldstein says.
Individuals and states have found a number of other tools that may be used to restrain white-supremacist groups without violating their constitutional rights. Members of the Kootenai (Idaho) County Task Force on Human Relations are contemplating a civil suit against the Aryan Nations, in which the white-supremacist group could be liable for damages. Other states have taken very specific actions, outlawing cross burnings or prohibiting the wearing of masks and hoods.
In the end, however, the Ku Klux Klan and like-minded groups are constitutionally entitled to march, preach race hatred, put racist films on cable television, advertise in gun magazines, and distribute literature.
Last of three articles; the others appeared Jan. 12 and 13.