Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that "hate crime" laws are unconstitutional will not affect similar legislation in the city or state, because neither body has such controls.
Hate crimes, such as cross-burning, are not outlawed as such in Lawrence or Kansas, city and state officials said today. However, local officials find other ways to prosecute the crimes.
"We would basically look for some statute that applies to whatever the facts might be," said Frank Diehl, Douglas County assistant district attorney.
For example, Diehl said, spray-painting "KKK" on area walls could be prosecuted under criminal damage to property statutes. Shouting a racial slur on the street also could be prosecuted.
"That would be disorderly conduct, because those are fighting words and not protected by the First Amendment," Diehl said.
However, Diehl could not immediately come up with an answer to all hate-inspired crimes such as posting a swastika on one's own lawn.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said today that past city commissions had not been asked to pass hate crime laws. City Management Analyst Dave Corliss said the city does have an extensive ordinance against discrimination.
Mary Horsch, press secretary for the Kansas attorney general's office, said the Legislature has considered adopting hate crime legislation in the past but never passed such a law.
"There are general laws that can apply to these crimes but none that are hate crime laws per se," she said.
In their decision today, the justices unanimously struck down a St. Paul, Minn., ordinance banning cross-burning, swastika displays and other expressions of racial supremacy and bias.
The court said the local law violated free-speech rights. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said the St. Paul ordinance seeks to ban expression based on content.
Ann Weick, who chairs the Lawrence Alliance, a body recently appointed by the city commission to battle discrimination in the community, said she thought the decision was "unfortunate."
"It's an unfortunate state of affairs right now when the expression of hate is growing. In the past, we've learned that laws can protect us," Weick said.
"It is particularly worrisome in these times when the rules of civility concerning bigotry and bigoted language are slowly disappearing," she said. "I can't imagine what can be gained in a society where people are allowed to be bigoted and hateful and can express destructive beliefs."