A federal appeals panel ruled Friday that New
York City can force the Ku Klux Klan to unmask at a weekend rally because the city is enforcing a law, not discriminating against the
City officials had agreed to allow the rally, but only if KKK members went without their traditional hooded white masks. They
cited an 1845 law that bars people from congregating in masks or disguises except for authorized events, such as masquerades.
The New York Civil Liberties Union sued on KKK's behalf, accusing the city of violating the group's First Amendment rights.
On Thursday, after hearing from KKK
members who said they had been attacked and their homes had been burned, two federal judges agreed and said that the masks were not being used solely to strike fear into others but also to protect those speaking out.
On Friday, the federal appeals court said that because the city didn't consider the content of the KKK's message when it decided to
enforce the law, that meant the city didn't discriminate.
The three-judge appeals panel distinguished the case from other in which courts had blocked anti-mask laws because the city was not trying to bar the rally because of the Klan's anti-Semitic, anti-minority rhetoric. Instead, New York officials were simply enforcing an existing law.
This week's rulings define only the ground rules for Saturday's rally. The wider First Amendment issues in the lawsuit will be
argued in court in coming months.
KKK officials said the group chose New York for the rally to try to overturn the mask law. The group has won legal victories over
mask statutes in towns in Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The KKK still plans to go ahead with the rally Saturday outside the state courthouse in lower Manhattan -- without masks, New York
Civil Liberties Union lawyer Arthur Eisenberg said.
Norman Siegel, executive director of the civil liberties group, said he was considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. He
called Friday's ruling a "momentary setback for the First Amendment," which he said should protect even anonymous, hateful
City attorney Michael Hess called Friday's decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a "great victory."