The Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Black vs. Virginia, in which a man was convicted of burning a cross on his private property. They have decided to uphold Virginia’s law, which states:
§ 18.2-423. Burning cross on property of another or public place with intent to intimidate; penalty; prima facie evidence of intent.
It shall be unlawful for any person or persons, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, to burn, or cause to be burned, a cross on the property of another, a highway or other public place. Any person who shall violate any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Any such burning of a cross shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate a person or group of persons.
There are three key points in this law:
- It’s only illegal if you intend to intimidate.
- Burning a cross is inherently intimidation.
- It’s only illegal if you burn it on public property, or on another’s land.
I find #2 particularly disingenuous, and #3 confusing. What if I merely wanted to dispose of a pair of old crossbeams? You’d think that I could just burn it, but, given that the Supreme Court has upheld this case, it’s apparently not possible for me to do so, even on private property. (I must admit that I’m only about a third of the way through reading the court’s ruling.)
I would like to burn a plus sign in protest of mathematics. Would that result in my being charged with a felony? I’m not sure. It appears that it’s inherently a threat. The real question, of course, is who I’m threatening. If asked, I’m going to go with Stephan Wolfram. Do you think they’ll buy it?