ST. PAUL, MINN. — LAURA Jones awoke two years ago to find a cross burning in her yard. She has difficulty accepting a United States Supreme Court decision striking down the hate crime law used to prosecute those responsible.
"I understand how we want personal rights and all that ... but you can only go so far," she said June 22 after the court found unconstitutional a city ordinance banning cross-burning, swastika displays, and other expressions of bigotry.
In a ruling that casts doubt on other such laws around the country, the court said the ordinance violated free-speech rights.
"All we can think is, maybe the Legislature at another time will be able to write up another ordinance that will be more in agreement with the court's decision," Mrs. Jones said.
"For now, we just have to be satisfied prosecuting cases like this with other laws on the books."
The 1982 ordinance was used to charge two of the six white youths police said planned or participated in three cross-burnings in the area. One of those charged, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a month in the workhouse.
The "hate crimes" charge against Robert Viktora, then 17, was dismissed in 1990. The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the ordinance in 1991.
Mayor Jim Scheibel said those who drafted the ordinance tried to balance free-speech rights against the need to protect people from acts of hatred directed toward religion, gender or ethnic background. "We will work to craft a new ordinance that says it is a special crime, it goes beyond a violation of going on someone's private property, when you burn a cross," he said.
Steven Zachary, president of the St. Paul chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the ruling means "that the rights of minorities ... were not entitled to special protection."
But William Roath, head of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, praised the ruling. "We've always said that the people who perpetrated that act should be prosecuted, but they should be prosecuted for their acts, for burning something on the property of another, for trespass, arson, vandalism, and so forth," he said.