Judge makes permanent ruling allowing KKK leafleting in Cape Girardeau

Friday, October 5, 2012 | 11:41 a.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A federal judge has issued a permanent injunction that prohibits a ban on leafleting in Cape Girardeau, thus allowing the Ku Klux Klan to put flyers on vehicles in the southeast Missouri city.

Cape Girardeau tried to enforce the ban on leafleting unoccupied vehicles to prevent littering. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in September on behalf of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK, claiming the ban violates free speech rights under the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge John A. Ross issued a temporary injunction in late September. On Thursday, he made the injunction permanent.

ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert says leafleting vehicles is a "cheap and effective way" to reach large audiences.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger declined comment.

The ruling also prohibits city officials and employees from enforcing or threatening to enforce the leaflet ban.

"The intent of the ordinance was to help avoid littering," Councilman John Voss said. "If the judge feels it is a violation of the First Amendment, we'll undo it, modify it or repeal it so it's not. It's the interpretation of the judge and I'm disappointed, but we'll just have to live with that."

Rothert said the ruling was a First Amendment victory — not just for the KKK but for everyone in Cape Girardeau.

"This illustrates why, even though this particular organization has a repugnant message, what was accomplished benefits all citizens," Rothert said.

The ACLU has successfully fought leafleting restrictions in other Missouri cities. It won a consent in 2010 barring St. Louis from enforcing an anti-eminent domain group from leafleting vehicles. Later that year, the suburban St. Louis town of Kirkwood repealed its prohibition on leafleting unoccupied vehicles after a man promoting a Martin Luther King Day event ran afoul of the ordinance.

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