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Va. Judge Backs Cross-Burning Law

November 14, 1998

HILLSVILLE, Va. (AP) _ A black lawyer defending a member of the Ku Klux Klan argued unsuccessfully that Virginia’s ban on cross burning deprives his client of the right of free speech.

David Baugh, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told a judge Friday that the state shouldn’t be allowed to punish Barry Black, a Klan imperial wizard, for expressing offensive ideas.

``I’ve had people tell me they hate me all the time, some for racial reasons,″ Baugh argued. ``We cannot make hatred illegal.″

Black, 50, was charged Aug. 22 with violating a state law against burning a cross in a public place or on the property of another person with the intent to intimidate. The felony is punishable by one to five years in prison.

General District Judge Edward Turner ruled that the state law is constitutional. He also ruled that there was sufficient evidence against Black to send the case to a grand jury, which is expected to meet Dec. 7.

Black, an imperial wizard with the International Keystone Knights of the Klan, is accused of leading a KKK rally in a pasture in which 18 robed and hooded people held torches as they stood around a 25-foot flaming cross. The gathering was on private property with the owner’s consent.

Baugh said his client has the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in the courtroom. ``If this man can be gagged, then so can the Jewish Defense League, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers,″ he argued.

A prosecutor, flanked by two assistant state attorneys general, argued that the law is constitutional because it targets intimidation, not free expression of ideas.

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