Judge strikes down Goshen anti-mask ordinance

Associated Press/May 10, 1999

South Bend, Ind. -- A federal judge has ruled a Goshen city ban on masks unconstitutional, saying it violates the rights of Ku Klux Klansmen to express themselves and associate anonymously.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller issued the ruling May 4. It was made public by lawyers on the case Monday.

Last June, Goshen enacted an ordinance making it illegal for anyone 18 or older to wear a mask, hood or other device in public to conceal his or her identity, except for religious, safety or medical reasons. Violators were subject to a $2,500 fine. City officials hoped the measure would discourage the KKK from rallying there.

The American Knights argued that they consider themselves a religion, and their national leader, the Rev. Jeffrey Berry, testified that members conceal themselves because they are sinners in God's eyes. The group also said many members wear the hoods to remain anonymous and reduce the risk of retaliation.

Indiana was a Klan stronghold in the 1920s. The state had 10 active chapters in 1997, according to KlanWatch, a national group that monitors KKK activity.

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