The Supreme Court, which has ruled twice in recent years that laws banning the burning of the American flag are unconstitutional, now has agreed to rule on laws banning the burning of Ku Klux Klan crosses. That this is needed is evidenced by the fact that a number of jurisdictions have outlawed so-called hate crimes -- and defined them in rather broad terms.
In the case the justices agreed to hear, St. Paul, Minn., outlawed burning a cross or displaying a swastika on public or private property if the action could be expected, on the basis of race, religion or sex, to "arouse anger, alarm or resentment." The individual who burned the cross in this case has linked his prosecution to the "politically correct" movement. This is the movement, centered on college campuses, that seeks to stifle -- legally and otherwise -- the expression of ideas that members of the movement view as prejudicial to women, blacks and certain other minorities.
As we have said before, we have no sympathy with those who would censor ideas, even ideas we abhor. We agree with what Justice William Brennan said in the first flag burning opinion: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." But to go from that to allowing such hateful acts as cross burning anywhere, any time, is a big leap that we do not believe the Supreme Court should take. (Nor is it likely to, especially with Mr. Brennan gone. The flag-burning cases, with their "absolute" First Amendment interpretation, were decided 5-4.)