Commission to appeal ruling on KKK role in program

Saturday, October 4, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission will appeal a federal judge's decision allowing a Ku Klux Klan group to participate in the state's Adopt-A-Highway Program, the commission announced Friday.

The KKK group had applied to participate in the highway cleanup plan in April 2001, but the commission denied its request to pick up litter along Highway 21 north of Potosi. The commission cited rules it adopted that year banning from the program groups that discriminate based on race or those that courts have said have a history of violence.

The Klan sued the commission, which oversees the program, and a federal judge in St. Louis ruled last month that the denial restricted the group's right to free speech. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry said the commission's rules were not substantially different from those struck down in 2000 by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an earlier case involving a separate KKK group from St. Louis.

Following the 2000 court decision, the commission adopted new rules.

The commission said it planned to ask the appeals court to stay the order allowing the Klan group to participate while the appeal is pending. The commission has until next Friday to file with the 8th Circuit.

"We continue to believe the Klan is not eligible to participate under our regulations because it discriminates in membership on the basis of race, and has a history of violence," commission chairman Barry Orscheln said. "We believe such regulations are reasonable and constitutional."

Robert Herman, attorney for the KKK group, said he believes the regulations were crafted specifically to exclude Ku Klux Klan organizations.

Prior to 2001, the St. Louis-based KKK group was allowed to participate in the program, which asks volunteers to pick up litter, mow or beautify a stretch of highway and includes roadside signs recognizing each group's efforts. Signs bearing the Klan's name were eventually placed along Interstate 55, but protesters cut them down twice.

The state then renamed the adopted section the "Rosa Parks Highway" in honor of the black woman arrested in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. In April 2001, the state dropped the group from the highway program, saying it failed to pick up any trash.

Later that month, Ralph Griffith -- a member of Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Unit 188-- applied to adopt the stretch of Missouri 21 near his hometown of Potosi. The application asked whether the group discriminates on the basis of race, color or national origin, and Griffith checked "Yes."

A month after that, the Missouri Highway Commission denied the application, saying that it had modified the rules in January 2001 to exclude groups that discriminate based on race or with a history of violence.

Herman said the commission permits participation by other groups that restrict membership based on gender and religion -- such as the Knights of Columbus. He also said the commission has no proof of the specific Klan unit having a history of violence.

Herman said the commission is denying the KKK group's right to participate because of members' selections of political speech and associations, which are both protected by Constitution.

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