Illinois suing World Church of the Creator

Matt Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator, said the state's lawsuit is an attempt to smear him and his movement

MSNBC/July 16, 1999
By Janan Hanna

Chicago -- Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the East Peoria-based World Church of the Creator, the white supremacist group of which Benjamin Smith was a member.

Ryan is asking a court to decide the status of the self-styled church founded by Matt Hale. At question is whether or not the organization is really a church. Churches and charities must register themselves with the Attorney General's Office; charities must do so every year.

But Ryan said Hale has never registered, and that could cost him.

"We will eventually ask the court to enter a preliminary injunction, freeze the assets, impose a fine, and require registration and filing every year," Ryan said.

>From his parents' home in East Peoria, Hale said the church's failure to register was an oversight that can easily be corrected. He said the suit is nothing more than an attempt to smear him and his movement.

"They cannot tell a Christian person to no longer be a Christian," Hale said. "Nor will they tell a Creator to no longer be a Creator."

Hale said he is operating within his free speech rights, and vowed to challenge the lawsuit. Ryan, however, said the lawsuit is not free speech.

"This lawsuit is about whether or not they have met the statutory scheme set up by the legislature," Ryan said.

The FBI and Justice Department are also conducting their own investigations into Hale and the World Church of the Creator.

"We want to shine a light on the financial dealings of this organization," Ryan said.

Governor Ryan, addressing the first meeting of the new Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes, said he wants new ideas on how to stop crimes motivated by hate.

"One sick person with a gun and a mind full of hate can send shivers and fears throughout neighborhoods, congregations, towns, and the whole state," Ryan said.

The governor said he wants recommendations by the time state lawmakers return in November.

Illinois has one of the nation's toughest hate crime laws, addressing crimes such as aggravated assault, battery, theft, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and telephone harassment committed because of the victim's race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Violating the hate crime law is a felony.

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