Traditionalist American Knights sue city of Cape Girardeau over handbill ordinance
The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing the city of Cape Girardeau over a city ordinance that they feel impedes on their First Amendment rights.
The Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights Frank Ancona said that the organization hoped to place handbills on the cars of Cape Girardeau residents on Sept. 28. A city ordinance that restricts the placement of handbills on cars without the car owner's consent prevented members from handing out their flyers.
"We respectfully called the city of Cape's police department," Ancona said. "We had hoped they don't enforce a law like that. We told them the ordinance was unconstitutional. They told us that they do enforce the law. We told them that we are law-abiding citizens and that we couldn't do anything without going through a legal route."
Legal director for ACLU Tony Rothert chose to represent the Ku Klux Klan since he felt the ordinance intruded on the rights of the Traditionalist American Knights.
"Our clients describe themselves as a white, patriotic, Christian organization that believes in the presentation of the white race and the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written,'" Rothert said. "They've found that distributing leaflets is an effective way to recruit new members."
Al Spradling III, the attorney representing the city of Cape Girardeau, said the city created the ordinance in 1967 for the sole purpose of avoiding litter in the city.
"It's a content-neutral ordinance," Spradling said. "What we are trying to regulate is the problem that arises when these handbills are delivered widely. The typical reaction from a citizen is that if they disagree with or don't like a message, they will toss it on the ground. The city ends up having to pick this up. It does not matter who it is. It's about avoiding unsightly litter."
Rothert and the ACLU are using the example of a church that sued the city of Fort Smith, Ark., in 1998 for an ordinance that restricted the handbills for the same reason the Traditionalist American Knights are suing the city of Cape Girardeau. The court ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it was too broad.
"There are court decisions that support the [Traditionalist Imperial Knights]," Spradling said. "But it's an important interest for the city to make sure the litter of handbills does not get out of hand."
Spradling said Catlettsburg, Ky., has a similar ordinance. The town was sued in 2005, but was able to prove that the ordinance was neutral in nature and there were alternative venues of expression available.
The Traditionalist American Knights have won cases on the grounds of their constitutional rights before. The group sued the state of Missouri and the Fort Davidson Historic site in Ironton, Mo., after the state refused to allow the group to rent a picnic pavilion. Ancona said that the state of Missouri had unlawfully asked them to pay insurance to rent a pavillion, which they did not ask other groups to do. The court deemed their restriction unconstitutional in 2005.
Ancona said that the handbills were representative of Christian values and had information on neighborhood watches, anti-Shariah law, homosexuality and the "meth epidemic."
"A lot of people believe the propaganda about us being violent in the media," Ancona said. "Maybe if we keep fighting for our constitutional rights, it will open people's eyes to what we really are. We just have a political opinion we want to get across. We care about our country."
Ancona said that although the group does support white supremacy, they are not a hate group. According to him, they support the separation of races and are against illegal immigration, homosexuality, and interracial marriage, among other things.
The hearing for the case was scheduled for Sept.17 in the Eastern District of Missouri United States District Court before Judge John A. Ross, but since both sides agreed upon the evidence put before the judge, the hearing was cancelled.
The ACLU said that the judge should make decision a before Sept. 28. The Traditionalist American Knights have a temporary injunction on the city, which will prevent them from acting on the ordinance until the decision is made.
"This case is about more than just helping the Klan," Ancona said. "It will help other political groups in Cape to not have to be censored as well.