ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Ku Klux Klan chapter's request to "adopt" a stretch of road in Georgia was rejected by state authorities on Tuesday, setting up a possible court fight over the right of the white supremacist group to participate in the highway clean-up program.
Under adopt-a-highway initiatives in Georgia and other U.S. states, groups volunteer to pick up trash and plant trees along the highway. Road signs are typically installed to recognize the organizations' efforts.
Georgia cited public safety concerns in denying the Union County Klan's application to participate in the program.
"The impact of erecting a road sign naming an organization which has a long rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern," the Georgia Department of Transportation wrote the Klan chapter.
"Impacts include safety of the travelling public, potential social unrest, driver distraction or interference with the flow of traffic."
Harley Hanson, whose formal title is the Exalted Cyclops of the Union County Klan, had earlier said his group would consider legal action if the application were denied.
"We're not going to be deterred," Hanson told Reuters on Monday.
State Representative Tyrone Brooks said Georgia should fight the Klan's application in the courts and if it loses, "I think you might want to end the program."
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 favour of the Klan, saying that 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."
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Missouri case.
Following the court ruling, the Klan was allowed to adopt a stretch of Missouri highway, and did so for a short period.
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Mohammad Zargham