CAPE GIRARDEAU — A Ku Klux Klan group claims a southeast Missouri city's ban on leafleting unoccupied vehicles violates Klan members' free speech rights, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK had planned to place handbills on vehicles in Cape Girardeau on Sept. 28 and other dates that have not been determined. But the Klan group learned the city only permits fliers to be distributed when vehicle occupants are willing to accept them.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Cape Girardeau alleges the leafleting restrictions infringe upon the group's free speech rights under the First Amendment. The Klan group also is seeking a preliminary injunction barring the city from enforcing the ordinance while the issue is being resolved.
Cape Girardeau's attorney was out of the office Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.
The Traditionalist American Knights' Imperial Wizard, Frank Ancona, of Park Hills, Mo., said the group isn't looking for "special treatment."
"We just want our rights like everybody else that are guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution," he said "We had this planned for the 28th, and we want to be able to do it. It's just putting out informational fliers to the public to make them aware of our organization and what we stand for and things like that."
Ancona's group describes itself as a nonviolent "White Patriotic Christian organization." The lawsuit says the group uses leaflets to spread the message that "for our Nation to remain successful, white supremacy and the purity of the white blood must be maintained."
According to the lawsuit, the leaflets also point out group members' belief that advancement of Shariah law is "undermining society" along with the "promotion of immoral public figures and widespread use of illegal drugs."
Klan members fear being arrested, fined or imprisoned. The lawsuit says police in Cape Girardeau told Ancona that the leafleting ordinance would be enforced if the group goes through with its plans.
Violating the ordinance can result in up to three months' imprisonment, a fine of up to $500, or a combination of both.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said the organization has successfully fought other Missouri cities' leafleting restrictions. The ACLU won a consent judgment in 2010 barring St. Louis from enforcing an anti-eminent domain group from leafleting vehicles. Later that year, the city of Kirkwood repealed its prohibition on leafleting unoccupied vehicles after the ACLU got involved when a man promoting a Martin Luther King Day event ran afoul of the ordinance.
Rothert said leafleting vehicles "is especially important because it is a cheap and effective way to reach a large audience with a message, and that is true across all the cases no matter who the plaintiff is."
In June, two western Pennsylvania mobile home parks received fliers from a Ku Klux Klan group that were tossed in sandwich bags weighted down by rocks, including one that cracked a truck's windshield. The fliers invited people to visit a website or call a toll-free number to join the Traditionalist American Knights.
Ancona said there are a lot of places where the groups' fliers have been distributed. He said he didn't know the details of what happened in Pennsylvania and couldn't comment on the incident.