Klan Gets To Cleanup Highway

Monday, March 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - Missouri lost a Supreme Court bid Monday to ban the Ku Klux Klan from its Adopt-A-Highway cleanup program.

The court, without comment, turned down the state's argument that it should be allowed to bar the Klan from the litter control program because the organization won't accept blacks and other minorities as members.

Monday's action was not a decision on the merits of the case.

Missouri's lawyers had said the state has a right to control its own speech and that allowing the Klan to participate would violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act's ban on racial discrimination in federally funded programs.

A lower court said Missouri must allow the Klan to join the litter cleanup program, adding that the state unconstitutionally turned down the organization because of its views.

The Constitution's free-speech guarantee ``protects everyone, even those with viewpoints as thoroughly obnoxious as those of the Klan,'' said the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Signs went up in November 1999 designating a one-mile stretch of Interstate 55 south of St. Louis as having been adopted by the Klan.

As in most states, Missouri's program allows groups to ``adopt'' a stretch of highway and do cleanup work on it. The state saves money, and the groups' efforts are acknowledged on signs posted along the highway.

Missouri's lawyers said nine other states have rejected Klan requests to join their Adopt-A-Highway programs: West Virginia, Texas, Ohio, Maryland, Kansas, Georgia, California, Arkansas and Alabama.

The Klan asked to join the Missouri program in 1994. The state denied the application, citing the Klan's all-white membership policy and its ``history of unlawful violence.''

The Klan sued and won in lower courts. The 8th Circuit court said in March 2000 the state would not violate the federal civil rights law by letting the Klan adopt a stretch of highway.

In the appeal acted on Monday, Missouri's lawyers said the Constitution's free-speech guarantee protects the state from having to post signs ``suggesting that the state approves of, and is grateful for, the Klan's participation'' in the program.

The Klan's lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said the First Amendment protects the organization ``against those who would misuse government power to suppress political dissidents.''

The Justice Department, asked by the court to give its views on the case, urged the justices to address the Civil Rights Act issue. The 8th Circuit court's ruling ``could substantially undermine'' enforcement of the anti-discrimination law, government lawyers said.

Twenty-seven states filed a brief supporting Missouri. They said they did not want to be ``forced to validate the Klan through the erection of highway signs announcing its presence as a partner of government.''