A federal judge has ordered Missouri state officials to allow a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a picnic at a Civil War historic site after the group filed a lawsuit claiming it was discriminated against by the state.
Frank Ancona, "the Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that his organization had been "treated differently" from others when it applied for a license to hold a picnic at Fort Davidson, some 70 miles south of St. Louis.
"Rather than simply checking for availability on the calendar, as is done for other groups seeking to use the pavilion, plaintiff was required to submit a written request outlining his plans," the lawsuit (PDF) stated. "Other organizations are not required to make written requests to use the large shelter if nothing will be sold to the public."
The lawsuit asked the judge to declare that the Klan's constitutional rights were violated by the refusal, and also asked for a temporary injunction forcing the state to allow the picnic to be held this Saturday.
On Wednesday, District Court Judge Rodney Sippel did just that, ordering the state's natural resources department to allow the picnic to go ahead provided the Klan can post an $1,800 bond and prove it has $300,000 in liability insurance.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ancona says the picnic may not happen because of the financial requirements the judge placed on the group.
The state had reportedly objected to the Klan's application on the grounds that a flyer the Klan was planning to hand out at the picnic featured a historically inaccurate Confederate flag. The version of the Confederate flag that had flown at Fort Davidson was different from the one featured in the Klan literature.
Judge Sippel rejected that argument, saying that the content of the Klan's materials was irrelevant. Even if everything the group asserts is wrong, "they still have a right to say it," the judge said, as quoted at the Post-Dispatch.
In an interview with the paper, Ancona "acknowledged that his group is a white supremacist organization, but he said that it is not a hate group and that it bars neo-Nazis."
"This has nothing to do with race," Ancona argued, saying it was an issue of free speech.
Fort Davidson was the site of a brutal 1864 battle that left some 1,500 Confederate soldiers and 184 Union soldiers dead. According to the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, the state had allowed the Confederate flag to be flown at the site until 2003. The KKK wants the flag to return to the site.