Commentary: Should the Klan Be Able to Adopt a Highway?

An argument in Georgia over whether a hate group should be allowed to do civic service is drawing attention.

Posted: 06/12/2012 05:20 PM EDT

The Ku Klux Klan is stirring up trouble in Georgia again, only this time it’s not their horrific intimidation campaigns or repugnant racial views that have people up in arms. Rather, what’s got everyone angry at the Klan this time is its effort to do some public service. Huh?

Last month, the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan applied to adopt a stretch of Georgia’s Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains under the “Adopt-a-Highway” program. April Chambers, the group’s secretary, applied for the program, she says, in the name of environmentalism. "I live in the mountains and I want to keep them beautiful," she told the Associated Press. "We didn't intend on this being big. I don't know why anybody's offended by it."

Why people are offended is because, as most people who have driven down a highway know, adopting a highway comes with the right to get your group’s name on a sign acknowledging your service. To many, putting the KKK’s name on a sign as if they’re an average public-service group is a disservice to the thousands who have suffered at the hands of the Klan throughout history.

"I'd like to sit down with this young lady and say, 'Your organization tried to kill me,'" George State Representative Tyrone Brooks said. He also called the Klan‘s plan "insulting and insane,” and said the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials will bring legal action to block the Klan’s highway adoption if it’s approved by the state.

While I certainly understand where Brooks is coming from, it’s important for him to remember that simply because he and others have bad feelings toward a group’s political beliefs shouldn’t limit that group’s right to participate in what are ostensibly civic opportunities open to everyone.

 

Beyond that, the law is probably on the Klan’s side in this one: In 2005, the state of Missouri tried to block neo-Nazis from adopting a stretch of highway, an attempt that was shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that membership in the Adopt-a-Highway program couldn’t be limited to groups whose politics were aligned with what others considered proper.

Ultimately, the people of Georgia should write off this whole thing for what it is: a publicity stunt from an increasingly irrelevant organization looking for some press. They should realize that the Klan will be gone soon, regardless of what any road sign next to a few miles of highway says.


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