by: Diana Davis Updated:
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. - The Ku Klux Klan wants its name on a Georgia highway sign, and the American Civil Liberties Union may be willing to help.
The KKK promises to fight the state's decision to turn down its request.
Georgia Ku Klux Klan members want to leave their mark on Georgia Highway 515 in Union County, but the state Department of Transportation turned down the group's application to put its name on an Adopt-a-Highway sign at that spot.
The DOT's letter to the KKK said it denied the group's application on the grounds that the KKK's history of civil disturbance would cause public concern. The DOT also said the sign could impact public safety and create social unrest.
The Georgia branch of the ACLU said the DOT's denial appears to violate the KKK's First Amendment right to free speech. The group’s executive director Debbie Seagraves told Davis a lawsuit against the state is one option.
“I don’t want to tell you we are going to sue the state. The ACLU practice and policy is to always try a remedy short of litigation, but were not afraid to do that if that’s what’s necessary,” she said.
The ACLU said it doesn’t matter that the Klan's message, white supremacy, may be offensive.
“No question their message is offensive and hurtful, but our constitution allows offensive speech. In fact, the First Amendment is only needed for offensive speech, only for unpopular speech. That’s its purpose,” Seagraves said.
If the ACLU does sue, the court battle could drag on.
A similar 2005 case in Missouri went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, the KKK got its highway sign.
Atlanta First Amendment lawyer S. Derek Bauer, of McKenna Long & Aldridge, told Davis the Georgia case is different. Unlike Missouri, the Georgia DOT Adopt-a-Highway program is intended for civic groups.
“I think it’s probably well within the state’s right to determine that the KKK is not objectively a civic-minded organization. I think the state has the right to say no,” he said.