A civil liberties group asked the federal court today to order the town of Elkton to let the Ku Klux Klan hold a march there April 11.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland called the Cecil County town's refusal last week to grant the Klan a permit to march "a clear and blatant violation" of the white supremacist group's constitutional right to free speech.
"It's easy to say no to the Klan when they ask to march," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, ACLU executive director. "We'd all like the Klan's message of hate to go away. But the easy way out is the wrong way out. By banning the speech of hate-mongers . . . we're telling them that our system of freedom can't stand up to their message of hate."
Mayor James G. Crouse, who joined three town commissioners' unanimous vote to deny the permit, today stood by the town's decision to bar the march. Town officials said the march could spark violence and wouldn't benefit Elkton in any way.
"I absolutely feel we did the right thing," Mayor Crouse said. "If we have to defend it, we'll defend it."
The ACLU said the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have given town officials no reason to think that Klan members would engage in violence during a march.The fear that Klan opponents might spark a confrontation is not reason enough to deny the Klan a permit to march, the ACLU argued.
It likened the Elkton situation to a 1988 case in which a judge ordered Thurmont to let the Klan march.
Judge Walter E. Black Jr. said then the same First Amendment protections that allowed civil rights advocates to march in the 1960s must apply to all groups today."Our society must allow every person to speak,no matter how offensive the message,afraid of who might prevail in the marketplace of ideas,"Judge Black wrote.
The Klan originally planned to march April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but changed the date. The purpose of the march, according to the Klan's application for a parade permit, is "to show support against the local drug problem."
Elkton, a town of 9,073, is about 8 percent black.