Last week, on Thursday, a Ku Klux Klan chapter sued the state of Georgia for rejecting the white supremacist group’s application for adopting a stretch of the highway. The KKK chapter is represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The KKK alleges that Georgia’s refusal to let it join the adopt-a-highway program violates its free speech rights. Debbi Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia said, “We decided to take this case because it is such a clear violation of the speech rights of the group … We can’t let that slide.”
According to the lawsuit, the reasons forwarded by the state for denying the application of KKK, which involves volunteers picking up trash and planting trees along an adopted stretch of the road, were “frivolous and pretextual” and were meant to “shift their duty to uphold free speech to a court instead.”
In June, while rejecting the application by the group to adopt a part of a highway, Georgia officials had cited public safety concerns, including assertions that signs on the highway with the Klan’s name could lead to social unrest and distraction of drivers. Under the typical adopt-a-highway program, participating organizations are allowed to erect signs with the names of their organizations on their adopted part of the highway.
Brian Robinson, spokesman for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said, “A state road sign with ‘KKK’ on it would betray our values and would rightly offend the vast majority of Georgians.”
In 1997, Missouri had rejected a similar application from a clan chapter on the grounds that membership to the organization was racially discriminatory. However, a federal appeals court had ruled that such a group cannot be asked to alter its membership requirements to qualify for the adopt-a-highway program because it would “censor its message and inhibit its constitutionally protected conduct.”
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case from Missouri and the appeals court ruling became final allowing the Klan to adopt a stretch of the Missouri highway for a short period.