State appeals court upholds Illinois hate-crime law

Friday, October 8, 1999

A man convicted under an Illinois hate-crime law for making anti-gay remarks
at a fast-food restaurant has failed to convince a state appeals court that the
law was unconstitutional.

Kenneth Rokicki challenged the constitutionality of the law after he was
charged with both disorderly conduct and a hate crime for his behavior as a
customer at a Pizza Hut in South Elgin, Ill.

In October 1995, Rokicki became irate at a store employee and began screaming
slurs at the employee and pounding the counter.

Illinois’ hate-crime law punishes those who commit certain crimes, including
disorderly conduct, when it is committed is because of the victim’s “race,
color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental
disability, or national origin.”

While disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor in Illinois, a hate crime is a

Before his trial Rokicki argued the hate-crime law was unconstitutional. A
trial judge rejected the motion and sentenced him to two years probation.

On appeal, the 2nd District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the trial
judge’s ruling in its Sept. 28 opinion.

Rokicki had argued that the law chilled his free-expression rights by
punishing his views on homosexuality. However, the appeals court cited state
appellate courts from the 1st and 3rd Districts, which also have upheld the law
from First Amendment challenges.

The court in People v. Rokicki distinguished protected speech from
unprotected conduct. “In this case, defendant is not being punished merely
because he holds an unpopular view on homosexuality or because he expressed
those views loudly or in a passionate manner,” the court wrote. “Defendant was
charged with hate crime because he allowed those beliefs to motivate
unreasonable conduct.

“Defendant’s conduct exceeded the bounds of spirited debate, and the First
Amendment does not give him the right to harass or terrorize anyone,” the court

The attorneys handling the case could not be reached for