KKK turned down for Adopt-a-Highway sign
The Georgia state DOT said that seeing signs bearing the Ku Klux Klan's name and encountering members of the KKK along a roadway "would create a definite distraction to motorists."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — Georgia has rejected a Ku Klux Klan group's application to adopt a one-mile stretch of highway in North Georgia, setting up a likely First Amendment court fight.
In a statement released late Tuesday, state Department of Transportation officials said promoting "an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern." Part of that concern, officials acknowledged, was that allowing the group to participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program could harm Georgia's image.
The DOT also argued that seeing signs bearing the Klan's name and encountering members of the KKK along a roadway "would create a definite distraction to motorists."
A phone call to International Keystone Knights of the KKK, which filed an application May 21 to adopt the portion of road in Union County, was not immediately returned. Harley Hanson, the exalted cyclops of the KKK Realm of Georgia, had earlier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would file a lawsuit if the group's application was rejected.
The 34-year-old Blairsville electrician said the group's members were simply trying to contribute to their community and keep the mountainous region pristine. Critics accused them of seeking publicity and working to improve their image. Groups that "adopt" stretches of highway are acknowledged with a road sign promoting their volunteer work.
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, head of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, praised the state for making what he called the "only right decision."
"The Klan killed people in this state, terrorized people in this state," the Atlanta Democrat said. "For the state to sanction them as a civic-minded group would be unacceptable and dangerous."
In Blairsville, a community in the Appalachian Mountains that relies heavily on tourism, the issue has been the talk of the town.
"Everyone's talking about it," said Richard Nguyen, owner of Lovely Nails, a salon. "There are a lot of people who oppose it," Nguyen said. "But I don't see anything wrong with it. To me, free speech is free speech."
Missouri fought a long legal battle to prohibit the KKK from adopting a portion of highway in that state — a fight the state eventually lost. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a lower court's ruling that the First Amendment barred Missouri from rejecting an applicant because it disagreed with the applicant's beliefs.
It is not known what a legal battle over the Klan's application might cost Georgia taxpayers.