The American Civil Liberties Union this week filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia on behalf of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (IKKK), which was prohibited from participating in the state's Adopt-A-Highway program.
“The fundamental right to free speech is not limited to only those we agree with or groups that are inoffensive. The government cannot pick or choose who is protected by the Constitution,” said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Georgia. “There will always be speech and groups conveying hateful messages that are distasteful to some. That is why the First Amendment protects free speech for all.”
In June, the Klan group sought to adopt one mile of Route 515, located in the Appalachian Mountains near North Carolina. The state would have been forced to give the group official recognition in the form of road signs bearing their name and other benefits in return for cleaning up litter on the stretch of highway.
The Georgia Department of Transportation rejected the request within days, claiming the group had a “long rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.” The department said allowing the racist group to adopt a highway could lead to "potential social unrest, driver distraction, or interference with the flow of traffic."
In their lawsuit, the ACLU said the Georgia Department of Transportation violated the free speech and due process rights guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution when they prevented the KKK from participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program.
"All we want to do is adopt a highway," April Chambers of the IKKK told CNN. "We're not doing it for publicity. We're doing it to keep the moutains beautiful. People throwing trash out on the side of the road... that ain't right."
In an almost identical case, the state of Missouri argued in 1999 that they could prohibit a Klan group from participating in the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program. With the help of lawyers from the ACLU, the Klan group eventually won its legal battle in 2001. But the Missouri Department of Transportation later kicked the Klan group out of the program after they failed to pick up trash.
Watch video, courtesy of CNN, below:
[KKK rally via Flickr user Arete13, Creative Commons licensed]