Cecil County officials say a decision to allow a Ku Klux Klan group to meet in a government building Friday was based on a First Amendment philosophy of refusing to discriminate against any group or organization.
Al Wein, Cecil County's director of administration, said in an email that despite hearing concerns from the public about the Confederate White Knights' planned meeting at 7 p.m. Friday in the county's government building, the county "has a legal duty" to make the facilities available, though the use of the room "is not an endorsement of the applicant, or its message, by Cecil County."
The meeting is one of many the Confederate White Knights want to host around Maryland in hopes of impeaching President Barack Obama, said its leader, Richard Preston.
"The First Amendment recognizes the right of organizations such as the applicant to peacefully assemble and to engage in free speech, even when the message is offensive," Wein said."The First Amendment also prohibits local government from discriminating against an organization's right of free speech and assembly on public property, no matter how offensive the message may be."
The group's website has traditional images of men in white hoods and burning crosses. It advises that its members must be "100 percent heterosexual" and of European heritage, and cannot be Muslim, Jewish, Satanist, Communist, or be convicted of pedophilia, rape or terrorism. Preston, who said Cecil County was selected for its "conservative" slant, said the Klan is distancing itself from its notorious past and other white supremacist groups.
"We really want people to understand that the Klan is not an organization that is only bent on violence," he said. "We fight very hard to keep our rallies peaceful... We are not the Klan of the '60s."
Preston expects at least 40 people to attend. Cecil County law enforcement plans to provide security.
Elyse Murray, president of the Cecil County branch of the NAACP, said she is not happy about the meeting and talked to Cecil County Executive Tari Moore about it "quite a bit." Murray has no plans to attend or respond to the meeting.
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"If we acknowledge them, there's going to be more light on what they are doing," she said.