Ku Klux Klan Sues New York In Bid To Hold Rally

Reuters/October 19, 1999
By Gail Appleson

New York -- The Ku Klux Klan, hoping to stage a ''White Pride'' rally in Manhattan this weekend wearing robes and hoods, sued New York City Tuesday, challenging a law barring masked individuals from gathering publicly as an infringement on free-speech rights.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, asks the court to find that the state law violates the free-speech guarantees contained in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The Klan, which described itself as ``vilified,'' argued that the First Amendment allows people to wear masks in public ''to protect themselves from injury by those who despise their views.''

As part of the suit, the Klan sought a court order prohibiting the New York Police Department from arresting Klan members if they gather in ``traditional regalia'' Saturday for the ``White Pride'' rally in front of a state courthouse in lower Manhattan.

The suit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Butler, Indiana-based Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group.

``The mask is necessary for the American Knights to remain anonymous and, thus, protect themselves from likely reprisal. The courts have long recognized this right to remain anonymous where the First Amendment is at stake, especially in the case of a despised dissident organization like the American Knights,'' the suit said.

In another case, a group that said it wants to hold a counter demonstration Saturday to protest the ``night-riding terror of the KKK'' also sued the city because it was denied a permit to use amplified sound.

That suit also was filed in U.S. District Court by the Partisan Defense Committee, which describes itself as a coalition of blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and others who have agreed to try to stop the Klan. The group had hoped to hold a rally at the same time and place as the Klan demonstration.

An unusual hearing has been set for Thursday in which the two federal trial judges who have been assigned to the separate cases both will preside.

In addition, a coalition of political, religious and civil rights organizations held a news conference Tuesday to announce it also was seeking

permit for Saturday to stage its own demonstration against the Klan's ``messages of hate.''

Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union said in court papers that the Klan would agree to an arrangement that would allow its members and counter demonstrators to use amplification at different times on the same day.

He said otherwise the messages from both sides would be ''obscured in a cacophony of sound.''

The Klan had applied to the police department for parade and sound permits to allow 50 to 80 members to demonstrate in front of the state courthouse. Last week, the department denied the application, citing the state's anti-mask law, which bars public gatherings of disguised people except at authorized masquerade parties.

The suit alleged that Klan members feel they must wear disguises out of fear of harassment, violence and loss of employment.

``It is essential to the organization to allow members to preserve their anonymity since, if members are not allowed to appear in public without being able to maintain their anonymity, they will not participate in public events,'' the suit said.

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