Three members of an Arlington Nazi group read from the Talmud, the traditional Jewish body of laws, and cited various television shows in testifying last week against a bill that would outlaw the distribution of hate literature in Maryland.
"It's true that some people find what we have to say unpleasant. Well that's tough; some things in life are unpleasant . . . The fact that some people find it distasteful is a consequence of living in this wonderful democracy we have," said Martin Kerr, a spokesman for the National Socialist White People's Party, which advocates white supremacy and racial separation.
Kerr read passages from the Talmud that he said proved that it advocated violence against gentiles. Among the television shows he mentioned was "Hogan's Heroes," which he said subjected Nazis, and therefore him, to ridicule. He said neither the Talmud nor the show would be outlawed by the bill, and that this was proof that the bill would unconstitutionally single out his group.
The widely publicized bill, introduced by State Del. Luiz R. Simmons (R-Montgomery), would make the distribution of "defamatory matter" a misdemeanor, punishable on the first offense by up to a $1,000 fine and a year's imprisonment. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and three years' imprisonment. Simmons said the bill does no more than extend to racial or religious groups the protections against libel that individuals already enjoy.
Some civil libertarians argue that the bill violates constitutional guarantees of free speech. "It's one of the more mischievous bills I've seen. I've seen six or eight bills on the subject of terrorism and the like, but it's the only one that does not aim at action. It aims only at speech," said John Roemer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, who testified at the House Judiciary Committee hearing Friday.
State Attorney General Stephen Sachs agreed with Roemer in a preliminary opinion issued Thursday, saying it is his view that the bill violates the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and is based on a 1952 opinion that would not hold up in court today. Simmons said he had amended the bill to make clear that the bill was addressed only to materials that defame a group by "false statements or representations," and said these changes would satisfy constitutional requirements.
The bill was prompted, Simmons said, by the rise in racially and religiously motivated incidents reported in Montgomery County and elsewhere. The Montgomery County Human Relations Commission reported 98 such incidents in 1981, and only 25 the year before. The Prince George's Human Relations Commissioner, testifying on another bill, said that the county had experienced a 106 percent rise in such incidents since 1978. Among those testifying in favor of Simmons' bill were representatives of the Maryland B'nai B'rith, the Women's American Organization for Rehabilitation through Training and several individuals.
Joanne Anderson, a representative of the Maryland Human Relations Commission, said she would not address the constitutional qualifications of the bill, but added: "We have 24 political jurisdictions in Maryland, and everyone of them has reported some type of literature of this kind. If this bill would relieve some of that, so be it."