Maryland's anti-cross-burning statute should survive a unanimous Supreme Court decision declaring that laws barring cross burnings and other hate crimes violate free speech, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday.
"The Maryland law is substantially different" from a St. Paul, Minn., ordinance struck down by the Supreme Court yesterday, "although it arrives at the same result," Mr. Curran said.
The St. Paul law made it a crime to burn crosses, display Nazi swastikas, or put other symbols and words on buildings if those actions arouse "anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender."
Maryland's law does not limit free speech, Mr. Curran said. "It protects property and it protects persons." Under Maryland law, a person planning a cross burning would have to get permission from the property owner and notify the fire department, Mr. Curran said.
Mr. Curran said he has not yet read the court's 86-page opinion on the case, but was basing his opinion on the court's syllabus. But he has been following the case, and last June issued an advisory opinion to a state legislator in which he "concluded that Maryland would still be OK" regardless of how the Supreme Court decided the St. Paul case.
Jennifer Burdick, state Human Relations Commission executive director, said she is concerned that the Supreme Court decision may give the impression by implication that it is acceptable to burn crosses and display hatreds.
"I'm very disappointed in the Supreme Court," she said. "I'm hoping we will still be able to deal with hate crimes in an effective way. I'm hoping this is a very narrowly defined decision."
Ms. Burdick said most hate-crime laws add punishments to actions already illegal when those actions are based on hate.