The International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan applied to join civic-minded organizations in Union County by “adopting” a one-mile section of Georgia Highway 515 near Blairsville; however, the Georgia Department of Transportation, in consultation with Governor Nathan Deal, denied the request.
Late yesterday, Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden told reporters that the impact on safety of the traveling public, potential social unrest, driver distraction, and possible interference with the flow of traffic were the reasons the application was denied.
Legal observers commenting on the action say the State is straddling a pointed fence.
In one instance, Golden said, “Encountering signage and members of the KKK along a roadway would create a definite distraction to motorists.” He went on to add, “The impact of erecting a sign naming an organization which has a long rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.”
In another instance, the State said, “The section of roadway requested would be ineligible for adoption since its posted speed limit exceeds the program’s maximum of 55 mph.”
Klan member April Chambers said that if the state denies their application, “We’ll see them in court.” Chara Fisher Jackson, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia, confirmed for reporters that they had received a “request for assistance” in the case, and that they are “going through the process” of investigating.
First Amendment attorney Alan Begner of Atlanta said in a televised interview that, although he does not represent any of the parties, he believes the state cannot win a legal challenge.
“Under the oldest and most protected First Amendment rights, the content of the message cannot be used by a government to limit speech; the state is in the classic quandary with nowhere to turn,” Begner said.
A similar application several years ago in Missouri resulted in a federal court decision in favor of the KKK being permitted to adopt a highway. The decision noted that the state could not prohibit participation because of a group’s political beliefs.