KKK group will keep fighting to join highway cleanup program; judge cites 1st Amendment right

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ATLANTA — A Georgia Ku Klux Klan group says it will move forward with its application for a highway cleanup program after a judge ruled the state's denial violated the organization's right to free speech.

The north Georgia KKK group applied to join the state's Adopt-A-Highway program in May 2012, hoping to clean up along part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The state Department of Transportation, which runs the program, denied the application, saying it is aimed at "civic-minded organizations in good standing."

"Participation in the program should not detract from its worthwhile purpose," the department said in a statement at the time of the denial. "Promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern to the department. Issuing this permit would have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life, commerce and economic development of Union County and all of Georgia."

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation sued on behalf of the KKK group in September 2012, arguing the state violated the group's right to free speech.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua agreed and ruled in the group's favor in November.

"The evidence in the record demonstrates that Plaintiffs' application was singled out for scrutiny not given to the other applicants to the program," LaGrua wrote, later adding: "This type of viewpoint-based discrimination, resting on an alleged 'public concern' related to a group's 'history of civil disturbance' is not allowed under the Georgia Constitution."

Lawyers for the state have filed a notice of their intent to appeal the judge's ruling based on the principle of sovereign immunity, which they argue bars action against the state entities named in the lawsuit.

Any action on the group's application is on hold pending the outcome of that appeal, Department of Transportation spokesman David Spear said in an email.

Alan Begner, a lawyer for the group, said his clients intend to fight the appeal.

April Chambers, the KKK group member who filed the application, told The Associated Press they simply want to do something positive and don't believe they should be discriminated against based on other people's perceptions.

"My intentions now are the same as they were when I filed the application — to help take care of my community," she said. "Even if that means another year of litigation through the appellate court, so be it."

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