Holden calls for cross-burning crime at MLK celebration

Monday, January 12, 2004

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gov. Bob Holden on Monday urged Missouri lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it a crime to burn a cross to intimidate someone.

Holden pushed for such a law while speaking at a central Missouri ceremony celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that states can punish Ku Klux Klansmen and others who set crosses afire, finding that a burning cross is an instrument of racial terror so threatening it overshadows free-speech concerns.

The court voted 6-3 to uphold states' power to punish those who burn crosses as an act of intimidation, after a lower court had ruled that a Virginia law muzzled free speech.

Holden said the Missouri legislation could mimic Virginia's law. The proposal would make a first offense a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A repeat offense would be a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

Holden said the new law would fill a gap in the state's current hate crimes law, which was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court in May 2001. That law allows enhanced penalties for violations "which the state believes to be knowingly motivated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or disability of the victim."

"I want to see this ban passed on the books as soon as possible," Holden said. "We must be united in standing up in our society against such acts of hatred."

Holden was among the speakers at the Martin Luther King Jr. event, at which he also called for Missourians to continue to work toward King's vision of a just society.

"Dr. King's work must do more than inspire us," he said. "It must ... be a call to action."

The event also included images and quotes from King, a song and a presentation by students from the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton.

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