ACLU Praises Cleveland Mayor's Support of KKK's First Amendment Right to March

August 3, 1999

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CLEVELAND -- The American Civil Liberties Union today praised the Cleveland Mayor Michael White for his efforts to protect the First Amendment right of marchers scheduled to rally in Cleveland later this month.

The August 21st rally by the Ku Klux Klan has been the source of considerable controversy, with some community leaders critical of the decision to allow the Klan to march at all. Others have criticized the mayor for a decision allowing Klansmen to use a police garage to don their robes and hoods.

While recognizing the offensive and racist nature of the Klan's message, the ACLU today commended White for allowing the marchers to prepare in an environment safe from physical violence.

"From our perspective, allowing the use of the police garage is a public safety issue, nothing more and nothing less," said Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio. "It doesn't mean the mayor endorses what the Klan has to say; it means he takes seriously his duty to avoid violence and preserve law and order."

Under well-established First Amendment law, organizations such as the Klan have a right to speak, and public officials are obligated allow that speech to go forward on public property.

"The mayor has taken a tough stand on a difficult issue," said ACLU Legal Director Raymond Vasvari. "No one expects his position to be popular, but the First Amendment extends its protection to even the most vile speech."

"The mayor has a legal duty to protect the First Amendment rights of unpopular speakers, and to ensure that they can deliver their message in an ordered environment, free from violence," he added. "So far, he has done his duty admirably. Mayor White should be commended."

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