ST. LOUIS — The Ku Klux Klan has won a court fight over leafleting in a Missouri town, its second such victory since October.
The city of Desloge agreed this week to stop enforcing an ordinance prohibiting leaflets on streets and sidewalks after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona and members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the KKK in October in a similar suit against Cape Girardeau.
The Desloge lawsuit was filed in November, and in December, the KKK won a temporary injunction halting enforcement of the ban. U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig made the injunction permanent on Tuesday with agreement from both the city and the ACLU.
"Broad ordinances restricting speech allow government officials to call for enforcement only when they disagree with a particular message," ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said in a statement. "In the United States, the government cannot pick and choose what should or should not be communicated. Any attempt to silence unpopular voices through legislation is an attack on the free speech rights we are all guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Desloge officials contended the ordinance restricted all solicitations, including handbills, and that Scouts, youth baseball teams and firefighters were prohibited from leafleting, just as the KKK was.
The reason, City Administrator Greg Camp said Wednesday, was safety — the goal was to keep people from soliciting at busy intersections.
"We're glad it's done, but at the same time we feel we need to come back and clarify the intent of the ordinance in a new form so that it can continue to provide protection to the pedestrian public and motorist public," Camp said.
The ACLU settled a third leafleting lawsuit with another Missouri town earlier this month. In the case involving Poplar Bluff, resident Brian Becker was ticketed last fall for leafleting in opposition to a $20 million bond initiative for sewer upgrades. The city agreed to rescind the ordinance.
Desloge, with about 5,000 residents, is 60 miles southwest of St. Louis.