Ku Klux Klan bids to "adopt" stretch of Georgia highway

Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:21am EDT

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* White supremacy group wants "to keep the road clean"

* Request puts Georgia authorities in a legal quandary

* Federal appeals court favored Klan in previous case

By David Beasley

ATLANTA, June 11 (Reuters) - A Ku Klux Klan chapter wants to spruce up a stretch of roadway in northern Georgia, creating a legal quandary for transportation officials as they consider the white supremacy group's "adopt a highway" application.

In 1997, the state of Missouri rejected a similar request from a Klan chapter, saying the group's membership rules were racially discriminatory. But a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Klan and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

If Georgia denies the Klan's new application, the group will consider legal action, said Harley Hanson, who is known by his formal title as the Exalted Cyclops of the Union County Klan.

"We're not going to be deterred," Hanson told Reuters.

Under adopt-a-highway programs in Georgia and many other states, groups volunteer to pick up trash and plant trees along the highway. Road signs are typically installed to recognize the organizations' efforts.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jill Goldberg on Monday declined to comment on the Klan application "until a resolution is determined."

State Representative Tyrone Brooks, a black legislator from Atlanta, said Georgia's program limits participation to "civic minded" groups.

"My God, when you say that the Ku Klux Klan is now being considered in that category, it stretches the imagination," Brooks told Reuters Monday.

Georgia should fight the Klan's application in the courts and if it loses, "I think you might want to end the program," Brooks said.

Hanson, the Union County Klan leader, said his group just wants to help the community by picking up trash. "Our intentions are to keep the road clean," he said. "We love our race. We don't promote violence."

In the Missouri case, a federal appeals court said requiring a group such as the Klan to alter its membership requirements in order to qualify for the adopt-a-highway program would "censor its message and inhibit its constitutionally protected conduct." (Editing by Tom Brown)

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