ELKTON -- The town of Elkton told the Ku Klux Klan last night to take a hike -- and not down Main Street.
Elkton Mayor James G. Crouse and three city commissioners voted to deny the Klan a permit to march through town April 11.
Mr. Crouse said he was concerned that the march could lead to violence between Klansmen and counter-demonstrators. He said it was his responsibility to protect citizens and their property from injury.
"Our civil liberties do not give one the right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater," he said.
A Klan leader immediately vowed to take the town to court. He called the decision a violation of the white supremacist group's constitutional right to free expression.
"It was a blessing. We could use the money in our treasury," said Chester J. Doles, state leader of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, referring to the group's desire to sue for damages.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has said it would sue Elkton on the Klan's behalf to safeguard the group's constitutional rights.
The Klan said it wanted to protest what it has described as drug-dealing in a mostly black neighborhood of the Cecil County town.
Mr. Doles and about a dozen followers left the town hall with shouts of "White power!" About 20 Klansmen and sympathizers -- some in white hoods and robes -- burned a cross afterward in a field in Leeds, four miles northwest of Elkton. The 44-foot-high wooden cross, wrapped in burlap soaked with diesel fuel, lighted the night sky for about 25 minutes.
The town commission's vote came 10 minutes into an orderly meeting attended by about 60 people.
"I'm elated. The mayor and town commissioners of Elkton should be commended," said Bernard L. James, president of the Cecil County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Klan handed out white supremacist literature on Main Street in December.
The Klan originally had planned to march April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Doles, the Klan leader, is a 31-year-old county roads employee who was released from prison in 1990 after serving 16 months for illegal possession of a handgun and for possession of drug paraphernalia.