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Maryland Cross Burning Law Held Unconstitutional

August 27, 1993

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Maryland’s cross burning law was struck down as unconstitutional Friday by the state’s highest court, whose judges said it interfered with free speech.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings make clear that burning a cross or other religious symbol qualifies as speech under the First Amendment, the Maryland Court of Appeals said in a unanimous ruling.

″The open and deliberate burning of religious symbols is, needless to say, odious to thoughtful members of our society,″ wrote Chief Judge Robert Murphy in an opinion joined by six other judges.

″But the constitution does not allow the unnecessary trammeling of free expression even for the noblest of purposes.″

Assistant Attorney General Gary Bair said he didn’t know if the state would appeal to the Supreme Court.

The decision affirmed a circuit court ruling dismissing charges in two Prince George’s County cases. In one case, a cross was burned on the property of a black family; in the other case, on public property.

The Maryland law, which was adopted in 1966, made it illegal to burn a cross on private property without getting permission of the landowner and notifying the local fire department.

The state had argued that the law was constitutional because it was enacted to protect property owners from fires.

But the appeals court said arson laws already exist with much stiffer penalties than the cross burning law.

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