Should the KKK Be Allowed to Adopt a Highway?

***Update***: The KKK group’s application has been rejected by GDOT.

A KKK chapter — yep, they still exist — in Union County, Georgia wants to do something that’s actually pretty honorable: Adopt-A-Highway:

The application, which would allow the white supremacy group to receive state recognition for cleaning up a one-mile portion of a highway, was filed by the International Keystone Knights of the KKK on May 21.

If the Georgia Department of Transportation accepts the application, the KKK would be responsible for cleaning litter on a part of Georgia State Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina border.

“All we want to do is adopt a highway,” said April Chambers, the chapter’s secretary. “We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re doing it to keep the mountains beautiful. People throwing trash out on the side of the road … that ain’t right.”

Baseless hatred of black people? They’re fine with it.

Litter? They must take a stand!

The Georgia Department of Transportation hasn’t made a decision on the highway either way yet. I get that. It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation for them. But allowing the group to adopt a highway is not the same thing as showing approval of the group or endorsing them.

Plus, odds are they’re going to be hit with a lawsuit if they say no. The basic rule is that you can’t discriminate against a group for a government project like this just because you don’t approve of what they stand for. (If that were the case, atheist groups would never get to be a part of the program.) As long as the group is keeping its stretch of highway clean, that’s all that should matter.

Joe Zamecki, whose atheist group in Texas participates in a similar cleanup project, offered these words (via email, emphasis mine):

This little KKK group is trying to do something positive. We can’t seem to change their minds on racism and hate. Decades of social evolution haven’t worked on a significant portion of the population. Okay, fine.

Well they could be doing a lot more harmful things than picking up trash off the side of the road. Besides, the same freedom of assembly and freedom of association that they’re guaranteed by the US Constitution are two freedoms that our movement needs just the same.

I believe that doing good can help an angry person become less angry. At the very least, our nation has a lot of litter to pick up. I say let them do something helpful for a change. It certainly shouldn’t inspire MORE hatred in them.

I agree. I don’t want to make the KKK look good by any means. But if they want to do something good, why stop them? I doubt their membership rolls are going to increase as a result of any positive press they get. This sounds like an easy decision for the Georgia officials to make.

Unless, as many CNN commenters joked, the group only picks up white trash…

If the Georgia DOT really wants to make it interesting, they’ll rename the stretch of land they give the KKK group the MLK Highway (or something similar). Let’s see the group clean up that road. Let the trash pick up some trash.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • asonge

    Yes. This has already happened 12 years ago. There’s no reason to oppose them, but there is a reason to write your state senator or your congressional representatives (from wikipedia):

    The Adopt-A-Highway program allows any organization to participate, which became a point of controversy when the Ku Klux Klan adopted a portion of Interstate 55 just south of St. Louis, Missouri. While legally the program had to uphold the groups’ rights to participate, the public outcry and repeated destruction of their sign was a cause of concern. In November 2000, the section of highway was designated as the Rosa Parks Freeway, named after the famed civil-rights heroine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adopt_a_Highway

    • Coyotenose

       I laughed pretty loudly just now. Didn’t see that one coming, even though I remember that now. Thanks for sharing that awesome memory!

    • Andrew Wilkens

      There’s even a song about it!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsH7BA9QWss

  • CanadianNihilist

     They want to clean up a highway, let them. It’s a good thing.
     

    • Mannysamra98

      But why would they all of a sodden want to do good

  • Bob Becker

    No brainer. Yes, they should have the same access to the Adopt A Highway program in Georgia as any other legal group.  

  • http://www.themerelyreal.wordpress.com/ Chana Messinger

    Well, that’s odd. But they should be able to do as they please.

  • Fsq

    Let ‘em clean.

    As stated, it is highly doub tful that this will increase any recruitment numbers.

    But I love the idea of assigning them a section of a MLK Parkway or a Malcolm X Boulevard or Rosa Parks Avenue! THAT would be AWESOME!

  • ortcutt

    Having the KKK participate would be a wonderful teaching moment on the Constitution.  People from other countries might find it odd that we accord Free Speech rights to hate groups, but that’s what we do in this country.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “We’re doing it to keep the mountains beautiful. People throwing trash out on the side of the road … that ain’t right.”

    To the KKK anyone who does not look like them is ‘trash’. Does this mean if my car breaks down on the side of their adopted mountain road they will throw me off the steep side of the mountain? 

  • Michael

    They also have some pretty strong words to express their contempt of the Westboro Baptist Church. Everybody has standards, not all of them make sense.

  • http://heathenhall.blogspot.com Joseph

    I would bet many of them are already used to picking up litter on the side of the road, albeit while wearing orange jumpsuits…

    In all seriousness, yes. No matter how odious their beliefs, they still have the same right to express them as anyone else, and that shouldn’t be held against them when trying to participate in an activity that positively impacts the community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Judith-Bandsma/1539649418 Judith Bandsma

    How about the Emmet Till Highway…more fitting. But I think it’s about time they started cleaning up. Maybe it’ll motivate them to clean up some of their own trash.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=705188 Richard Hughes

    *Sigh* Yes, they should get to adopt a highway too. But we’ll sigh in exasperation, like so – *sigh* – every time we discuss it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “All we want to do is adopt a highway,” said April Chambers, the
    chapter’s secretary. “We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re doing it
    to keep the mountains beautiful…”

    It is perfectly legal to, of your own initiative, put on some work gloves, pack some garbage bags, and go out along that highway to pick up trash. You don’t need government approval for that.  Of course you wouldn’t get the roadside sign with the name of your group on it, but since, as you claim, you’re not doing it for the publicity…

    • Coyotenose

       I’m reasonably sure that when Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops participate in Adopt-A-Highway, they aren’t usually doing it for publicity. Doing something publicly isn’t the same as looking for attention.

      They probably ARE looking for publicity, but without further evidence, that isn’t a good direction to argue unless we also want to argue things like “Al Gore only began talking about Global Warming to make money.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/chuckt1981 Charles Thomas

        He made up “facts”, so, you’re right, Al Gore wanted attention.  Bad example, but I get your point.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        I’m reasonably sure that when Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops
        participate in Adopt-A-Highway, they aren’t usually doing it for
        publicity.

        I have a completely different opinion on that, but you haven’t presented any evidence to argue with.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Uhm, actually, no. You can’t just glove-up and do it. There’s a heap to do with liability in regards to the safety of the volunteers along a highway. So, yes, you do need government approval to pick up litter on a state highway.

      ETA: In my state you can be fined for even walking along the state highway unless your vehicle is broken down.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        ETA: In my state you can be fined for even walking along the state highway unless your vehicle is broken down.

        I don’t know (or care) which state you live in, but that is usually only true of controlled access roadways; i.e. interstate quality roads. It most certainly does not apply to state highway 15 in northern Georgia.

        • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

          Sorry, I wasn’t aware of the highway status of 15 in Georgia.  Here in PA (especially since you don’t care) most of the “adopt a highway” miles in my area are along controlled roadways. 

          That said, the issue of liability still stands.  It’s why most states require a volunteer to sign a liability waiver before they can participate.  You still can’t just grab a group of people and start cleaning up areas without permission from the state.

  • Thegoodman

    The government should refrain from supporting or allowing the support of hate groups. The KKK is no different than shitpile groups like American Family Association and similar hate groups.

    • Coyotenose

       Who exactly gets the authority to decide, from a governmental standpoint, what groups are “hate” groups and therefore don’t have the same rights as others? Who do you trust to wield that power, and to possess the wisdom to continually choose replacements to wield that power?

      • Edmond

        It seems like the SPLC might be a good place to start.  They already have some standards in place for identifying such groups.  I wouldn’t see an issue with a government agency adopting or adapting some of their standards, and blocking any groups that might be identified as “destructive” or “divisive” or “discriminatory”.  Certainly someone could come up with better adjectives than I have to describe a group whose purpose is to disenfranchise other citizens.

        If any of these INDIVIDUALS wants to do good, they can offer their time while NOT under the representation of the KKK.  I don’t see any value in adding “good” notches to the belt of a group like this.  Do we really want to be able to say, “Hey, look at all the good the KKK is doing”?  Their admirable position on litter doesn’t forgive their atrocious position against human beings.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

          I disagree.  I would not give the government this power.  Most of the people in this country would label me as being “destructive” “divisive” and “discriminatory” because I’m not down with the jesus worship. 

          • Edmond

            Well, that’s why I suggest that some other agency should come up with better adjectives.  My shoddy examples could certainly be misconstrued by almost any group.  But I think there are plenty of people who can be trusted to come up with a fair set of standards, without being biased toward religion, or race, or nationalism, or things like that.  There are plenty of people who CAN’T be trusted, too, but I would think that if the SPLC can put guidelines in place to ensure their objectivity and fairness, so can the government.

      • Thrbwrt

        The majority.

  • T-Rex

    I’m pretty sure that when the word “family” is included in a group’s name it pretty much signifies them as a hate group.  I’ve seen their signs on highways before so why should the KKK be treated be any differently?

  • Justin Miyundees

    That’s going to be one dirty stretch of road.  I mean – talk about asking for it!  Where’s everyone gonna dump that old washing machine now?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

      I was thinking of wrapping dog poo in hate literature and dumping it, so they could pick that up.

  • Millamber1

    Let them do it and then make sure the groups on either side are either black or gay then maybe just maybe they will then learn to get along with the people they dislike and change their whole point of view

  • Coyotenose

    I do find myself wondering just how asinine it would be to throw trash out on that section of road on purpose.

    Sometimes I’m not such a good person.  :(

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Oh, I’d do it. I’d drop off the litterbox waste along that stretch.

  • Lamocla

    American are stupid. Hate and discrimination is not free speech you bunch of idiot.

    USA : Unbelievable Stupid American

    • http://www.facebook.com/chuckt1981 Charles Thomas

      That was pretty hateful what you just said there: yet you’re allowed to say it.  We don’t protect speech unless it’s offensive, we protect it because it often is.  It was offensive to say slavery was wrong, it was ‘offensive’ to say women and blacks should have the same rights as ‘white freemen,’ it was ‘offensive’ to say that non-property owners should be able to vote it is ‘offensive’ (to me) when preachers condemn homosexuals to an eternity of torment.  We protect offensive speech because it is often enough in the right and therefore in the best interest of all Americans. 

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Pro-tip: When calling all Americans stupid, have the English language skills to back up your mouth.

    • Ryan

      “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
      -Voltaire

      Yes, hate is free speech. Discrimination is not free speech because it involves action, but speech of hatred must be free as well. For example, I hate when people try to put qualifiers on free speech.

    • NickDB

       Well I must be an Unbelievably Stupid South African then, news flash for you, freedom of speech means freedom of speech, it’s not free if there are limitations AND it is not only the USA that recognises that and protects it, most civilised countries do.

      I don’t agree with a lot of goes on in the U.S. but I admire and respect their stance on free speech.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Eh, I’m leaning towards “let them do it” — it just might keep them busy enough to NOT cause trouble.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TLHIXVS2CHDJNWYPZJIZ5NNZ3A Robert

    “I don’t want to make the KKK look good by any means. But if they want to do something good, why stop them? ”

    Is it legal to stop them?  Probably not.  But lets not treat them like they are that funny bigoted old uncle.  The Klan has been (is?) a terrorist organization responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    It’s really a non-issue.  Let them contribute *something* positive to the world instead of just hate. 

    Though I can see why the government is a little shy about it: The signs will probably be vandalized in short order and those things aren’t cheap.  We had a local pagan group adopt a highway around here (they were assigned one of the most dangerous clean-up areas available when the the program was told that they *had* to allow them to participate) and within days the signs were vandalized with some Bible verse (no idea which one anymore, it was years ago).   People are going to be dicks if the group doing the service conflicts with their own world-view of “how it should be” instead of saying, “huh, looks like those (insert group in question) are doing something good.”

    As much as I understand the cost issue with the very likely vandalism and theft of signage that’s probably going to occur, they still have to allow them.  I hate the message that the KKK sends and I don’t agree with their views, but the beauty of free speech is that they can say all the hateful shit they want and I can look them in the eye and say, “You’re a dick.”  I like my two-way streets to stay that way.

  • Kavalec

    As I recall they tried that here so we assigned them a chunk of MLK fwy.
    They went away.

  • Wild Rumpus

    The KKK isn’t about hating black people, it’s about loving white people.  Kind of like how the Bible isn’t about hating gays and women, but loving people who follow Christ.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

    absolutely they should be allowed. they are one of the nation’s most useful groups in this sense; they remind us all of the definition of freedom in situations like these. more importantly, as a black woman i want to know those parts of the country where the klan is so strong they can organize 10 people to put the trash in a bag two weekends a month, which hopefully they know how to do given their previous experience putting it in sheets (kluxers: no holes in these, m’kay?). i’ll be taking the next detour in the other direction, thanks. 

  • edgar ayala

    Free Speech for all. I want to live in a country where people have the right to hold stupid positions, because this is truly freedom for all. Once you begin to limit the expression of one group, the expression of everyone else is in danger.

  • Gburgatheist

    Just read about the Adopt a Highway program.  They are really saying you are advertising, but the cleanup is done by the program.
    http://www.adoptahighway.com/home.html

  • Ginger

    While I agree that “Yuck!” is never a good argument against letting people do things, I have a different perspective on this one. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t just hate non-white people; they often terrorize and promote violence against them. Therefore, I question whether the Klan qualifies as a civic organization for the purposes of this program. They don’t promote civic values, and in fact, they frequently promote violence and illegal discrimination.

    I don’t think they should be excluded from the program because I hate what they say. But I question the appropriateness of recognizing the KKK as a local civic organization like the Rotary Club or even the First Methodist Church. I also feel anxious saying that any group should be excluded from a public program. However, I feel the Klan is more readily comparable to a violent gang than to other political or religious groups.

    For what it’s worth, I live in a state with an active KKK group, and I know of what I speak.

  • Matthew D

    Next we can have the Taliban adopt a highway. It’s not like the motivations of these hate groups is ever unclear, so let them have a sign that people can tear down and vandalize.

  • stop2wonder

    I view this as a test to the strength and resolve of our freedoms.  It’s easy to defend the freedom of speech for people you like and agree with.  It’s not so easy to defend those who’s messages run contrary to everything you stand for.  Such is the price of true freedom.   

  • sam

    What if an atheist group wanted to sponsor a highway, and the DOT renamed the highway after a religious figure?

  • http://profiles.google.com/whoreslie joe smith

    it won’t make anybody’s beliefs change by stopping them. yeah. they’re dicks, but i bet you there are a fair amount of Georgians that would like to bar atheists, muslims, etc from adopting a highway. just deal with it and stop giving them so much damn publicity.


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