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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

KKK Loses Leafleting Challenge in Missouri

(CN) - The Ku Klux Klan's challenge of a small-town Missouri ban on stepping into the street to hand out leaflets disintegrated in the 8th Circuit.

It has been a year since Desloge, Mo., a small town 60 miles southwest of St. Louis, passed an ordinance that prohibits pedestrians from entering the roadway for solicitation purposes or the distribution of flyers. Desloge is 97.4 percent white.

The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the ordinance as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Klan says that it regularly distributes leaflets on public streets and sidewalks to inform citizens of the dangers of methamphetamine to the white race, to organize neighborhood watches, and to inform the public about defending "White Christian culture" against Shariah law.

Members generally station themselves along a sidewalk at a four-way stop, then step into the road to deliver a leaflet if an occupant of a vehicle indicates an interest in Klan literature.

Klan members sometimes wear their robes and hoods while distributing this information.

After finding Desloge did not narrowly tailor the law to serve public-safety interests, a federal judge in St. Louis granted the Klan a preliminary injunction against it.

The 8th Circuit reversed 2-1 on Christmas Eve, however, largely based on evidence from the city's traffic consultant that pedestrian traffic in the roadways may create a serious hazard and distract drivers.

"The fact that a pedestrian had not yet been hit while distributing materials in the city did not mean that it was not dangerous, for a 'government need not wait for accidents to justify safety regulations,'" Judge Diana Murphy wrote for the majority.

Desloge also showed that there are several stop signs in the town where a pedestrian could remain standing on the sidewalk and distribute materials to the occupant of a vehicle, the court found. Distribution of materials on sidewalks, parking lots and parks remains unrestricted.

"We conclude from the record here that the Desloge ordinance is narrowly tailored to serve its asserted interests, those being to prevent harm to pedestrians or to persons seeking to distribute materials to vehicles in the roadways while permitting distributions along the side of the roadways and at other locations in Desloge," Murphy said.

Judge James Loken dissented from the panel, saying, "I would affirm for reasons the District Court explained at length."

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