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Should Racist Groups Like the KKK Have Freedom of Speech in Georgia?

Known for their extremist reactionary beliefs, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has pushed an agenda of white supremacy, white nationalism and anti-immigration for decades. The organization’s political ideology currently only captures between 3,000 – 5,000 members nationally, a much smaller base than they had in the 1920's when millions belonged to the Klan. The ideologies are so far-right that the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have marked the national organization and its numerous chapters as a hate group.

Now, the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, a local chapter in Georgia, is making national news after their application to participate in the adopt-a-highway program was denied by the Department of Transportation. Before jumping to conclusions, it is important to acknowledge that the state’s adopt-a-highway program is public and open to all groups wishing to participate.

The Klan chapter wants to clean up a stretch of Route 515 in Union County. In a letter to the KKK chapter secretary, the department’s commissioner explained several reasons for the application’s rejection.

1) That particular stretch of highway has a speed limit of 65mph and is not safe for cleanup volunteers to work on. 

2) Public concern caused by putting up a sign naming an organization with ‘a long-rooted history of civil disturbance’.

3) Risk of social unrest and driver distractions, therefore impacting overall traffic flow and road safety.

It is a tough discussion to have and a fine line to toe. However, the Department of Transportation’s concerns have easy rebuttals from the Klan, which is looking to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for representation. According to program guidelines, when a stretch of highway is deemed unsafe for volunteer cleanup, it is the department’s responsibility to select a safer location. The state cannot constitutionally deny speech or rhetoric coming from an organization, even an organization like the KKK which is so deeply-rooted in backwards ideologies.

The ACLU and KKK bring up fair points and have put the Department of Transportation in a tough spot. A very large majority of Americans (and others) do not agree with the KKK’s beliefs. However, when looking specifically at the legality of the denied application, the KKK has a rather strong case.

The question now remains if Georgia will be home to a case nearly identical to the 2005 case in Missouri, which ended with the courts ruling that “the state discriminated against the KKK by denying it participation in a program open to all organizations.” How will the state proceed? Will the KKK have a taste of their own medicine and be denied the freedoms and rights that other American citizens already have?

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