The Counsellor's Corner
One of the more interesting court battles taking place at the moment is in Missouri where the Ku Klux Klan wishes to become part of the Adopt-A-Highway program. That’s right, you could be minding your own business, driving down Highway 55 in Missouri and unlike out here where you see stretches of freeway adopted by Bette Midler, Jay Leno, or some other innocuous Hollywood-type person, you would suddenly see a sign indicating that the KKK was taking care of cleaning and maintaining this part of the road. Should the KKK be allowed to do it? Should they be permitted to clean and publicize the fact that they are so doing? This question has landed the issue in court with the Klan members having won the first round. Arguments against the Klan’s ability to clean up their part of the highway include the concern that drivers will throw more trash out of their cars to keep the Klan members busy, and that a Ku Klux Klan sign might startle drivers and therefore cause traffic accidents.
It seems that the real reason many are opposed to the KKK pitching in is the potential far-reaching effect of the Klan attempting to, in effect, go mainstream and perhaps begin the process of having people see them as less extreme. The concern is that allowing the Klan into this segment of society would, in effect, legitimize the Klan and attempt to get people to move on from the Klan’s past, and ignore the Klan’s true agenda. According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Klan’s agenda is to “promote a racist Christian identity philosophy that tags Jews as the biological decedents of Satan, and Blacks as soulless sub-human mud people.”
While I loathe the Klan, I’m having a hard time coming up with a valid reason to keep them from joining the Adopt-A-Highway program. Let them have their Fiefdom; let them clean their mile of highway. That is one less mile for someone else or some other organization to clean. On the other hand, I have always associated the Klan as hating African Americans more than Jews, and I am trying to imagine how I would feel if I were driving the 134 freeway and saw a sign that said “Litter Control Next Two Miles by the Young Hitler Fan Club.” I would have a very hard time with that. My inclination would be to spit out the window for the next two miles. I would probably get angry every time I saw the sign, at least until I got “used to it” if that ever were to happen, and I could see taking a different route if it wasn’t too inconvenient to avoid that odious sign and that hateful stretch of road.
The problem I am having, though, is should I have the right to decide? Does the fact that I hate a group or groups give me the right to keep them from keeping a part of the highway clean?
Another argument against the Klan is that the government, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, cannot endorse, i.e., let clean a group that discriminates. The Klan’s attorney’s response is to point to the Boy Scouts who discriminate, or at least keep out girls and homosexuals. They also point to the Knights of Columbus who are permitted to clean highways, however in order to join you have to be both Catholic and male.
As I mentioned earlier, the Klan has won the first round as Steven Limbaugh (no relation to Rush) ordered the Department of Transportation to let them clean for now and that they can also post their sign acknowledging that which they are doing. In the words of Judge Limbaugh, “The State cannot use its regulations to target the Klan’s unfortunate beliefs.” The view of the American Civil Liberties Union is that, “The Government can’t deny you the right to participate in a government program just because it doesn’t like your views.”
As you can perhaps tell, I am having a hard time with this issue. From a legal standpoint, I think the Klan has the right to clean the streets and be part of the Adopt-A-Highway program. From a personal standpoint, I detest the fact that their name would be up there, just like all of the other good and decent organizations that help to keep the highways clean. I hated it when the Klan marched in Skokie years ago, but maybe the answer is there are certain things that it is necessary I learn to live with although I have strong personal feelings about them as how I would like this society to be is more important than what does or does not offend this writer.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.