SPRINGFIELD, Ill. The Illinois Supreme Court dealt a legal blow to white supremacist Matthew Hale last week, upholding a state law that requires charities to register and report finances to the government.
The court rejected Hale's argument that the law violated the Constitution because it is so vague no one can understand it.
State Attorney General Jim Ryan sued Hale's World Church of the Creator in July 1999 for failing to register as a charity and disclose its finances. Ryan contends Hale's organization is a charity, not a church.
Charities must be registered in Illinois so the state can protect people from fraudulent fund raising, but the First Amendment keeps government's hands off churches.
The lawsuit was filed just days after Benjamin Smith, a former member of Hale's group, went on a shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana targeting minorities. He killed two people and injured nine before killing himself.
Ryan is trying to fine the East Peoria-based World Church $1,000, freeze its assets and ban it from soliciting funds in Illinois. The case now returns to Cook County Circuit Court.
Hale said Ryan, a Republican candidate for governor, is trying to score political points by shutting down what Hale says is a church.
"We are a body of religious adherents. We raise money in order to print our literature and distribute it," Hale said. "We have a collection plate, just as most churches, and I don't see them being hauled into court by Jim Ryan."
Hale said he doesn't know how many people belong to the church, and he declined to discuss its finances.
He contends that the state's Solicitation Act is so vague that no one can tell which groups it covers. A Cook County judge agreed and overturned the law, sending the issue directly to the state Supreme Court.
Justice Rita Garman, writing the opinion for a unanimous court, said the lower court relied on court cases that overturned laws governing fund raising because they did not define the types of organizations covered. The Illinois law's definition, which describes "charitable organizations" as those formed for "benevolent, philanthropic, patriotic" or other purposes, is sufficient, she said.
"Although the terms at issue in this case are broad in scope, we fail to see how they could be more precisely defined," Garman wrote. "Given the wide variety of organizations subject to the Solicitation Act, an all-inclusive definition must be used."
Ryan, who issued a two-sentence statement expressing pleasure with the ruling in People vs. World Church of the Creator, argued Hale's group qualifies as a charity because it sells items such as "The White Man's Bible" to support religious activities.
Garman agreed, saying solicitation on a Web site for membership dues and advertisements for books and merchandise suggested that purchases would benefit the World Church, "thus giving it the appearance of a charitable organization."
Hale said he would argue in circuit court that if the law applies to his group, it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. He also said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.