KANSAS CITY — A Ku Klux Klan group won a preliminary injunction late Thursday afternoon allowing it to proceed with plans to leaflet vehicles in a southeast Missouri city.
The American Civil Liberties sued Cape Girardeau earlier this month in federal court on behalf of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK. The suit claimed the city's ban on leafleting unoccupied vehicles violates Klan members' free speech rights under the First Amendment.
The Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK had planned to place handbills on vehicles in Cape Girardeau on Friday 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.
Judge John Ross noted that the KKK was likely to prevail and wrote that "the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in favor of granting the injunction so as to allow freedom of speech."
The Traditionalist American Knights' imperial wizard, Frank Ancona, of Park Hills, Mo., called the ruling a "victory for the First Amendment." He said the leafleting will proceed Friday even though the preliminary injunction was granted at the "last minute."
Al Spradling, who represents the city and is a former mayor, said he will talk to the City Council about "where we go from here."
"It's not shocking," he said of the ruling. He noted that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri, is among three to rule against leafleting ordinances. He said that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a leafleting ordinance similar to the one Cape Girardeau has had on its books since 1967.
Ancona's group describes itself as a nonviolent "white patriotic Christian organization." He said it's approaching 2,000 members.
The lawsuit said the group uses leaflets to spread its message of white supremacy.
Klan members had said they feared being arrested, fined or imprisoned if they leafleted in Cape Girardeau. Violating the ordinance can result in up to three months' imprisonment, a fine of up to $500, or a combination of both.
"The judge recognizes that based on precedence we are very likely to prevail in the challenge to this ordinance," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, which has successfully fought other Missouri cities' leafleting restrictions.