U.S. Constitution does not protect acts meant to terrify

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Free speech is one thing. Conduct is another -- especially when it is conduct that, by its very nature, is intended to terrify or intimidate others.

That sort of speech has never been protected by the First Amendment, and never should be in a civil society.

Thus, it is right and good that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that cross-burning is outside the law's pale.

The court rightly ruled in a Virginia case last week that states with cross-burning bans may punish Ku Klux Klansmen and others who set crosses afire.

Cross-burning, said six of the justices, is an instrument of racial terror so threatening that it overshadows any free speech concerns. The ruling was especially heartening because it would seem at odds with past Supreme Court decisions that protected speech rights of flag burners and of other unsavory or unpopular groups and causes, such as pornographers and strippers, and people who display swastikas or crosses in demonstrations.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that "those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point."

He's right. Freedom of speech should not include the right to physically threaten or menace others anymore than it should allow an anti-administration protester to throw a brick through a White House window.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, who argued the case before the high court, predicted the decision would prompt more states to outlaw cross burning. ...

-- Augusta Chronicle

April 13

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