Another news item from the furtherest reaches of credibility, from last Friday’s i paper, It’s fascinating as it shows how complex the notion of freedom has become in the land of he free. How far does the rights of a group extend when they are in conflict with those of the state, or of those who are offended or threatened by those same rights?:
“The group of Ku Klux Klan members posed mid-salute on a roadside in North Georgia. They were unlikely litter- pickers. the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had, almost 4 years ago, filled out an application to claim a 1 mile stretch of route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina border, under the state’s “Adopt a Highway” programme. Members wanted the name “IKK Realm of GA, Ku Klux Klan” to appear on the road sign.
“We just want to clean up the doggone road”, klansman Harley Hanson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “We’re not going to be out there in robes.”
This week the Georgia Supreme Court began hearing arguments abut whether the group should be permitted to pick up litter. Over the next several months, the court will weigh Georgia’s claim for sovereign immunity – the idea that the state is protected from civil suit or criminal prosecution – which is the key argument in the case. Maya Dillard Smith, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union .. in Georgia, said it is the sovereign immunity claim that is especially “disheartening”. She said: “It will be expanding the right of the state to engage i viewpoint discrimination. That is, the state will be given a licence to refuse participation of individuals and groups whose speech the government disagrees with. “Today it;s the KKK. Tomorrow it’s journalists, lobbyists, religious evangelicals and even Black Lives Matter.”
But the state’s Department of Transportation denied the KKK’s request, explaining that the area had a 65 mph speed limit and was not safe for volunteers. The other issue was with their name: KKK. “The impact of erecting a sign naming an organisation which has a long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern,” it said.
The Klan – with help from the ACLU – filed a lawsuit in autumn 2014 … requesting an injunction to stop the state from denying the permit, as well as a declaratory judgement claiming the state violated the state constitution. The case has since bounced back and forth. A trial judge issued a final order in late 2014, ruling that the state’s rejection was an unconstitutional infringement on the KKK’s right to free speech and, further, that the state could not deny applications to its Adopt-a-Highway programme out of “public concern” based on the group’s history.
The state appealed it i Georgia’s appeals court, which ordered the case to be moved to the state supreme Court in November, in part because of the state’s sovereign immunity defence. It was not the first time a state has gone rounds with the white supremacist group.
In 1994, Missouri tied to block the Knights of the KKK from participating in its Adopt-A-Highway scheme. The Klan requested a half mile section of road on Interstate 55, one of the routes that had been used to bus black students to school as part of desegregation efforts near St Louis. The state denied the KKK’s request. In response, officials renamed the part of he highway after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a man who had fled Nazi Germany and later became a popular civil rights advocate.
Alan Begner, lead counsel for the Klan in the latest case, said the justices heard argument, including the state’s case for sovereign immunity and government speech. If the state’s claim that it cannot be sued holds up in court, he said, “then the Georgia constitution is gutted and is a meaningless document.”
If the KKK wins, Mr Begner said the members are going straight to the state’s Department of Transportation. “