National Socialist unit adopts Mo. highway section

Thursday, January 22, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A neo-Nazi group has adopted a half-mile section of highway in Springfield as part of the state's litter prevention program.

The Springfield unit of the National Socialist Movement has committed to cleaning up trash along the section of Highway 160 near the city limits in west Springfield.

Two signs noting the group's membership in the Adopt-A-Highway program went up last October but drew attention only recently when the group picked up litter as part of a gathering in Springfield.

The state says it had no way to reject the group's application. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling arising from a similar effort by the Ku Klux Klan says membership in the Adopt-a-Highway program can't be denied because of a group's political beliefs.

"It's a First Amendment thing, and we can't discriminate as long as they pick up the trash," said Bob Edwards, a spokesman for the transportation department's office in Springfield.

The NSM Springfield unit did not return phone calls or e-mails from The Associated Press. It said on its Web site that it adopted the highway to "show Springfield that we care."

"We are showing our commitment to cleaning up America by starting right here in our town," the Web site says. "NSM Springfield is a part of the solution!"

Edwards said his department had received only one phone call asking why the group was allowed to adopt the highway. Louise Whall, spokeswoman for the city of Springfield, was not aware of the group's action until contacted by the AP, but said the city had no jurisdiction because it's a state program.

Members of the highway cleanup program are required to clean up trash at least four times a year. Edwards said about 600 groups pick up trash in the 12 counties surrounding Springfield.

In the early 2000s, Missouri went to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight efforts by the Ku Klux Klan to clean sections of state highways.

At the time, the state could reject applications for the Adopt-A-Highway program from groups that denied membership based on race or had a history of violence.

The Klan challenged those regulations and in 2000 the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the prohibitions.

The department adopted new highway cleanup rules, but a federal judge again ruled for the Klan in October 2003, saying the revised rules weren't substantially different than those previously struck down.

The state appealed, but was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2005.

In general, the state can deny an organization's application only if it has members who have been convicted of violent criminal activity within the past 10 years.

After the state dropped the Klan from cleaning up a section of Interstate 55 near St. Louis in 2001 for failing to pick up trash, the stretch of highway was renamed 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.

Associated Press writer Chris Blank in Jefferson City contributed to this report.

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