The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has decided to represent the Ku Klux Klan in its battle with the state to join the transportation department’s highway cleanup program. The International Keystone Knights of the KKK applied to clean up part of Ga. 515 in Union County, a stretch in the North Georgia mountains that would be marked with a sign declaring the group’s participation. Today’s guest writers have their say on the issue.
Rick Badie is today’s moderator. Commenting is open following Tyrone Brooks’ column below.
By Debbie Seagraves
In 1976, the National Socialist Party of America applied for a permit to march in the village of Skokie, Ill., home to many Jews, including Holocaust survivors. Skokie leaders replied that the neo-Nazi group would be required to post a bond of $350,000, an impossible and unconstitutional requirement.
A long and bitter court battle ensued, and the result was a series of decisions that defined our current understanding of freedom of speech.
What many people don’t know is that even though the group won the legal battle, it never marched in Skokie. Many assert the incident sparked the creation of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois.
More recently, the Missouri Highway Transportation Commission refused to grant the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan the right to participate in Missouri’s Adopt-A-Highway program.
Another long and costly series of court battles ended with essentially the same results as the Skokie case.
The opinion of the federal court in this case states: “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.”
It has been firmly established by every level of court that offensive speech and ideas enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.
Indeed, it is only offensive speech and ideas that need protection of the First Amendment.
So now the International Keystone Knights have applied to adopt a stretch of highway in Union County, and it appears that the Georgia Department of Transportation is denying the group permission because its viewpoint is objectionable.
GDOT has suspended the program for stated reasons that have already been ruled unconstitutional by many courts.
It almost seems it is inviting litigation so it can blame the courts when it is finally forced to do the thing that is constitutional but opposed by so many.
Perhaps the most egregious implied justification for denial was a fear that public safety would be jeopardized because other people might misbehave, a “hecklers veto.” This is a transparent way of saying our government condones the bad behavior of those who hate and that the First Amendment may be held hostage by bullies.
It is often difficult to separate the issue from the people involved.
To most of us, the Klan’s message is a uniquely offensive one, and we have the right to speak out about our objections to its philosophy and viewpoint.
Are you willing to cede that freedom to your government?
Is it OK with you for elected officials to have the right to silence those who question their decisions, those who work to hold them accountable through public discourse?
If you ask yourself those questions, I hope you will agree that this debate is really not about the Klan, but rather about how much freedom we are willing to give away in order not to be offended.
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard M. Decker summed up the principles at stake in the Skokie decision:
“It is better to allow those who preach racial hatred to expend their venom in rhetoric rather than to be panicked into embarking on the dangerous course of permitting the government to decide what its citizens may say and hear. … The ability of American society to tolerate the advocacy of even hateful doctrines … is perhaps the best protection we have against the establishment of any Nazi-type regime in this country.”
By Tyrone Brooks
The Ku Klux Klan is a terrorist organization. The group is among the founders of organized domestic terrorism in the United States. No matter how it tries to change and rebrand its image and rewrite history, the blood stains will remain.
Georgia is correct in denying the application of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK to participate in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program in Union County.
It is outrageous the group was ever under consideration. This program is for “civic-minded organizations” that build up the community, not hate-filled terrorist groups seeking its destruction.
As a proud American, a lifelong Georgian, civil rights activist and president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (a nonpartisan, multiracial, multicultural organization), I am a strong supporter and believer in our U.S. Constitution. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment, which guarantees us “freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition.”
I support the right of the KKK to clean up highways, and its members can call me any name under the sun, moon and stars in the process.
I do not support it being legitimized by the state of Georgia and having the name of this heinous organization placed on our public highways and supported by the tax dollars of our residents.
If it is sincerely interested in cleaning highways, then it should not matter whether it gets name recognition for doing so.
Organizations defending the KKK should consider using resources to help us in the fight against voter intimidation and suppression.
The KKK’s murderous, terroristic roots run deep throughout the South and this nation. Established at the end of the Civil War, the hooded cowards of the KKK tried to instill fear in formerly enslaved people.
Its ideology and philosophy are treasonous. If it could, it would abolish the United States in favor of the Confederate states.
The KKK is responsible for mass murder, church bombings and burnings, lynchings, and the destruction of numerous homes and businesses.
I authored an anti-terrorism law signed in 1983, which created the anti-terrorism squad of the GBI to target violence by hate groups.
It amazes me that anyone would dare to compare the KKK — founded to kill, maim, intimidate and suppress people — to multiracial, multicultural, civil rights organizations established to work for equal rights, freedom and justice for all people.
What ignorance would prevent someone from understanding the difference?
Many of my colleagues and friends (black and white) have been killed by members of the KKK for standing up for our God-given, human rights and the rights of others.
Unborn babies, children, young people, mothers and fathers have all been victims of its venomous cruelty and hatred.
The KKK is equivalent to al-Qaida, the Taliban and neo-Nazis. Should it be allowed to place its name on our public roads and highways? Should these groups be allowed to adopt Ground Zero in New York?
For a history lesson in heinous KKK genocidal violence, join us at noon July 28 at the First African Baptist Church in Monroe for the annual reenactment of the lynchings at the Moore’s Ford Bridge.
When you join an organization and work under the banner of its name, you are accepting and condoning its history. The KKK will never clean up its image or remove the blood of innocent victims forever staining its hands.