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Hecht bill targets Klan

January 24, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

FREDERICK, Md. - By introducing legislation to target hate groups, Del. Sue Hecht said she wants to dispel the perception that Western Maryland is a hotbed for the Ku Klux Klan.

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Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said Monday she will file a bill to make it a crime to wear a mask or hood during a public demonstration.

"Let's unmask the Ku Klux Klan and bigotry. If hate groups want protection under our laws of freedom, let us be free to see their faces. Let's strip away false barriers and meet each other face to face," Hecht said.

The legislation originated with Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, who filed a bill in the Senate and asked Hecht to sponsor a companion bill in the House of Delegates.

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"When people hide behind masks or anonymous phone calls, they have more of a tendency to spit out hate," Teitelbaum said.

Hecht said she hopes the gesture also will send a message to local hate groups that they won't be tolerated in the community.

She credited a similar law for drastically reducing the number of Klan members expected to rally in New York City in October.

That law and a similar law in Virginia were upheld by the courts as Constitutional.

The bill would not prevent people from wearing masks at Halloween. It would also exempt those who wear masks for professional, religious, sports or theatrical reasons.

Breaking the law would be a felony, subject to up to five years in prison or a $2,500 fine.

The last time the Klan demonstrated locally was in Thurmont, Md., in 1996.

Roger Kelly of Rocky Ridge, Md., the longtime leader of a statewide Ku Klux Klan group, resigned and ended his membership in July.

At the time, a Hancock resident was to replace him, but it was unclear Monday whether that had happened.

In August, the KKK distributed leaflets to Frederick County homes condemning homosexuality.

Hecht said the bill is so important to her that she decided to call a press conference at her Frederick office. It was a first for her in the five years she's been in office.

Hecht and Teitelbaum were joined by representatives from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and Frederick City Police, who said they support the bill.

Such a law might curtail hate group rallies and help police officers identify lawbreakers, police said.

Several community groups also were on hand to tout the bill.

"We have to stop the violation of human rights," said Charlene Y. Edmonds, president of the Frederick County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Thomas E. Lynch III, chairman of the human rights organization Committee for Frederick County, said no one will be denied the right to express their views.

"That doesn't mean they can shout fire in a crowded theater and it doesn't mean they can hide behind a mask and shout obscenities," he said.

The bill will be reviewed by the conservative Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but Hecht said she didn't see that as a stumbling block.

"I don't see this as a liberal or conservative issue. I don't imagine they would want to support groups geared at hate," she said.

Committee member Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, could not be reached for comment.

Another Washington County lawmaker, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, has signed on in support of the bill.

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