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Greg Bluestein

Georgia officials: KKK using adopt-a-highway program to advance ‘Klan Country’

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The Ku Klux Klan’s attempt to “adopt” a stretch of highway in north Georgia is headed to the state’s Supreme Court. And the hate group’s case will be defended by a surprising ally: One of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations.

The Georgia Court of Appeals this week transferred the prickly question of whether the KKK chapter can get state recognition for cleaning a one-mile span of Route 515 near the North Carolina state line to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Three members of a Georgia KKK chapter salute along the portion of highway they want to adopt near Blairsville in June 2012. AJC Photo/Curtis Compton.

Three members of a Georgia KKK chapter salute along the portion of highway they want to adopt near Blairsville in June 2012. AJC Photo/Curtis Compton.

The American Civil Liberties Union launched the challenge after Georgia transportation officials rejected the white supremacy group’s 2012 request to clean up the section. Maya Dillard Smith, the executive director of the group’s Georgia chapter, called the state’s denial an example of “government overreach.”

“Accessing the Georgia courts to defend ones constitutional rights is fundamental to protect those very rights. But the state of Georgia believes Georgians only have the right to exercise defense of their most fundamental rights, only if the state says so,” she said in a statement Saturday. “It’s that kind of unchecked power that erodes individual liberty guaranteed to each Georgian by the U.S. and Georgia state Constitution.”

Georgia cites public safety concerns and said the program is aimed at “civic-minded organizations” – not hate groups. But the state is reminded of an irksome precedent: Missouri blocked a similar request from the Klan in 1997, but lost their fight after a lengthy legal battle on free speech grounds.

(Missouri lawmakers tried to get the last laugh. They renamed that stretch of pavement after a rabbi who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent civil rights advocate in the U.S.)

Georgia’s image, of course, is also on the minds of state attorneys. There’s increased scrutiny of remnants of the Confederacy after the shooting deaths of nine black worshippers by a gunman suspected of wanting to incite a race war.

“Erecting an [Adopt-A-Highway] Program sign with the KKK’s name on it would have the effect of erecting a sign announcing that ‘the State of Georgia has declared this area Klan Country,’” the state’s legal brief read. “Such a statement is absurd and would date this state back decades.”

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