The battle between the Georgia Department of Transportation and a north Georgia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has been raging on for over three years now, usurping valuable resources, time, and money of taxpayers.
It’s made for unusual bedfellows, including legal representation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for…the Klan. While it speaks to the integrity of the ACLU and equitable protection under the law, the criticism has not been spewed sparingly.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, here’s a quick rundown:
- A north Georgia KKK chapter applied for a mile of highway in Union County through GDOT’s ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ program
- The chapter’s application was declined in 2012 while the agency cited ‘safety concerns. Here’s the official denial letter.
- The KKK, represented by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit alleging the denial was a violation of the organization’s First Amendment rights. Named in the suit: GDOT, the Governor, and the State of Georgia.
- A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled that it was, indeed, a violation of the First Amendment
- GDOT appealed the ruling
- The Georgia Court of Appeals said they did not have jurisdiction over the case
- The Georgia Supreme Court, in November 2015, said they would hear the case. A date has not yet been determined.
Because of the controversy, the Georgia Department of Transportation has stopped accepting new applications for the ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ program. They are supposedly planning to restructure their policy. If I were them, I would wait to restructure anything until the courts have ruled once and for all.
To me, it seems like the solution is fairly simple. If the problem is the use of tax dollars to provide the sign and print names of organizations and groups that the state doesn’t endorse, then allow the organization to adopt the highway and then have them pay for and install their own sign.
If the GDOT, a state agency, cannot fairly and equitably apply the program policy to all applicants, the program should be suspended indefinitely, any already adopted roads should be revoked, and the signs should be taken down. Maintenance should resume being performed by GDOT.
The First Amendment – and all the others – were crafted with the intention that they would be protected even when it made us uncomfortable. Free speech isn’t always pretty. If the previous ruling is overturned, the Court is essentially saying that the concern over the possibility of hate speech trumps Constitutional rights. The Klan is responsible for indefensible things, but if they are cleaning up trash and erecting a sign, those are not illegal activities. What is the grounds for denial? You also muddy the waters between what an actual chapter is responsible for versus the people participating within that chapter.
The purpose of the program was to bridge the gap where the DOT fell short and allow the community to participate in keeping roads clean. ANYONE from the community should be able to do that – even if we don’t like them. I would imagine if you had the opportunity to get to know everyone in the state who adopted a road, there would be others you didn’t like, too. That isn’t grounds for denial.
This isn’t about the Klan. It’s about the proper role of government. The Klan should be allowed to adopt their stretch of highway.