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Federal judge clears way for KKK to join state's Adopt-A-Highway program

The Associated Press

04.15.99

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ST. LOUIS — A federal judge has ruled that the Ku Klux Klan may take part in Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway program to pick up roadside litter anywhere but in the city of St. Louis.

Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh said that "as lacking as the Klansman's ideology may be of any redeeming social, intellectual or spiritual value, the Constitution of the United States protects his right to express that ideology as freely as one whose views society embraces."

Limbaugh ruled that the Missouri Highway Transportation Commission "cannot use its regulations to target the Klan's unfortunate beliefs."

In May 1994, the Klan applied for a permit to adopt a half-mile stretch of Interstate 55 between Utah and Gasconade streets in St. Louis. In exchange for picking up trash along that portion of highway, Klan members would get a sign posted along the highway saying, "Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."

Highway officials initially refused to accept the Klan's application, claiming the Klan was more interested in publicity and recruitment than in picking up trash. But in June 1996 a federal magistrate judge ruled that the Klan had a First Amendment right to take part in the program.

An appeals court later overturned that decision.

The case then went before Limbaugh. In his 12-page ruling issued on April 13, the judge said the transportation commission had identified no violation of federal civil rights law that would block the Klan from taking part in the litter pickup program.

He pointed out that while the KKK "certainly has discriminatory membership criteria," so do other organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America and the Knights of Columbus.

But Limbaugh upheld the commission's decision not to expand the Adopt-A-Highway program in St. Louis, which effectively bars the Klan from taking part on the stretch of highway it had applied for in south St. Louis.

The commission has said that it already has as many participants in the city as safety allows. The judge agreed, saying that moratorium on new participants was reasonable and neutral and reflected legitimate safety concerns.

More than 700 groups take part in the Adopt-a-Highway program in the St. Louis area. Statewide, there are more than 5,000 participants.

A Klan spokesman says he believes the ruling means the Klan may apply to join the program anywhere in the state, outside of the city of St. Louis.

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