A Prince George's County Council committee gave preliminary approval yesterday to two so-called anti-Ku Klux Klan bills over objections of a representative of the county chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
One bill would prohibit the wearing of masks, hoods, or other devices with the intent to intimidate, harass or deprive a person of civil rights. The other would define and prohibit vandalism with racial or religious overtones. Violation of either law would be punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.
Both anti-Klan bills were introduced by council member Floyd Wilson after the violent aftermath in downtown Washington of Klan and counter-Klan rallies last Nov. 27. Wilson said the measures were aimed at blocking possible racial and religious violence.
Claire Bigelow, representing the county ACLU, said yesterday that while she recognized "the good intentions of the [anti-mask] bill," the ACLU opposes it because it is "vague and probably unconstitutional." She said the bill violates an individual's rights to freedom of expression and to demonstrate one's beliefs and that if it is approved the ACLU would probably challenge it in court.
Wilson and Deputy County Attorney Barbara Holtz argued that both bills were constitutional and were based on a model drafted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
They said similar measures were recently adopted by the D.C. City Council and introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. The Office of the Maryland State's Attorney also reviewed and approved both bills, but expressed the view that the antivandalism bill would be unnecessary since it covers acts already prohibited by law.
In other action, the council reviewed two bills introduced by Council Chairman Frank Casula that would require hot tub spas to exclude anyone younger than 18 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian; to blacken windows so passersby could not see in, and to undergo yearly license review preceded by public hearings.