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Rights groups oppose Klan bill

February 22, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Human rights groups testified Tuesday against legislation targeting the Ku Klux Klan.

The bill would make it a crime to wear a hood or mask during a public demonstration.

The bill proposes five exceptions to the crime so innocent groups such as trick-or-treaters aren't prevented from gathering.

But representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Maryland Jewish Alliance said that while they applaud efforts to shut down the Klan, it's not worth infringing on the right to free speech.

"Freedom does have a cost and I don't think it can be purchased at a discount," said David Conn, speaking for the Maryland Jewish Alliance.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, testified that similar laws have been upheld by higher courts.

"Hiding behind a mask has nothing to do with free speech," Teitelbaum said.

In an effort to satisfy critics, Teitelbaum amended the bill so it would apply only to groups likely to incite violence.

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Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the bill appears to hurt the groups it was intended to help.

He suggested Teitelbaum and Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, who sponsored a companion bill in the House of Delegates, didn't do their homework.

"You wonder if they're doing it for a cheap headline," he said.

Hecht said she didn't sponsor the bill to get publicity.

Hecht said she expected opposition, but hoped to be able to solve any problems with the bill.

Teitelbaum had asked for her help because of Frederick County's reputation for being a hotbed for hate groups, she said.

"We don't want Frederick County to be known by these types of hate groups and by hatred against gays and lesbians," she said.

Her bill faces a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

No one from the Klan testified Tuesday.

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