The Georgia Court of Appeals will hear on Thursday a case deciding if the Ku Klux Klan, commonly referred to as the KKK, can "adopt" a stretch of highway in north Georgia, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta. The white supremacy group sought to be recognized by the state’s adopt-a-highway program in 2012 after cleaning up a one-mile area of Route 515 near the North Carolina border but was rejected by Georgia transportation officials.
In response the KKK sued, and the case, brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union, will hear oral arguments on Thursday. The KKK's argument is that their First Amendment free speech rights have been violated, while the state has reportedly cited public safety concerns and suggested that adopt-a-highway program is for "civic-minded organizations," and not hate groups, reported WSB-TV.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained records in 2012 that said the request was filed by the International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County, Georgia. "We just want to clean up the doggone road,” said Harley Hanson, who filed the request, to the the Journal-Constitution in 2012. “We’re not going to be out there in robes.”
The request was eventually rejected, however, amid concerns over having the hate group recognized by the state. There is precedent for the KKK being allowed to adopt a highway. Missouri blocked a similar request from the KKK in 1997 on the grounds that group's membership rules were discriminatory. Missouri eventually lost the case after a lengthy legal battle, a federal court ruling that forcing the group to change its membership rules to qualify for the program would "censor its message and inhibit its constitutionally protected conduct," reported Reuters.
The KKK then adopted the portion of highway for a brief period of time. The state countered by naming the stretch of highway after a rabbi who fled Nazi Germany and later became a prominent theologian and a civil rights advocate.
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The Georgia case comes during a national call for the removal of remnants of the Confederate South following the fatal shooting of nine African-Americans at a historically black church in South Carolina. In particular, there has been a growing debate surrounding the displaying of the Confederate flag, with which the alleged shooter Dylann Roof posed in photographs.
“Erecting an [Adopt-A-Highway] Program sign with the KKK’s name on it would have the effect of erecting a sign announcing that ‘the State of Georgia has declared this area Klan Country,'” Georgia's legal brief reads, according to WSB-TV. “Such a statement is absurd and would date this state back decades.”