(ATLANTA) — A Ku Klux Klan group’s controversial application to adopt a stretch of highway in north Georgia has been denied by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“Promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern to the Department,” spokesman David Spear wrote in a statement. “Issuing this permit would have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life, commerce and economic development of Union County and all of Georgia.”
The group, the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, had applied to adopt a one-mile stretch of highway in northern Georgia.
“Maintaining the safety of our roadways is this Department’s foremost mission,” the statement said. “Encountering signage and members of the KKK along a roadway would create a definite distraction to motorists.”
The GDOT also said that the section of roadway requested is ineligible for adoption because its posted speed limit of 65 mph exceeds the program’s maximum of 55 mph. A letter of denial is being sent to the group.
The KKK group member who submitted the application did not respond to request for comment.
The application set off a battle between a state representative condemning the application and the group’s ardent but anonymous leaders.
“The state of Georgia is absolutely shameful in even considering an application from the KKK,” Democratic State Rep. Tyrone Brooks told ABC News. “If the state will accept an application from the KKK, we may as well get ready to accept applications from the Nazi party, Taliban, al Qaeda and Aryan Nation.”
The group dismissed Brooks’ comments.
“What we’re trying to do is something positive and this Tyrone Brooks is trying to raise a stink about it. We just want to do something good for the community,” a representative of the KKK group, who would only agree to be identified as the “Imperial Wizard,” told ABC News.
The man was adamant that his real name not be used, in order to protect his job and family, he said.
“[Brooks is] coming out and calling the Klan a terrorist organization. Prove it in black and white that the U.S. government has labeled us a terrorist organization,” the Imperial Wizard said. “Prove it. He needs to prove it. I challenge him.”
The Imperial Wizard insisted that the Klan does not commit criminal acts and that “everybody has a past they want to forget about.”
When asked if he maintained the beliefs of the KKK, notorious for violently condemning minorities and religious beliefs that conflict with their own, the Imperial Wizard said, “I’m a separatist. I’m not a racist. I believe in the separation of the races. It was originally printed in the Bible.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation says on its website, “Any civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state, or federal agency is welcome to volunteer in the Georgia Adopt-A-Highway program.”
The case is similar to one in Missouri that turned into a lengthy legal battle. When a KKK group tried to adopt a Missouri road, the state tried to prevent it. The state eventually lost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that membership in the “Adopt-a-Highway” program cannot be denied because of a group’s political beliefs.
Brooks said he wants Georgia’s story to end differently.
“I think the state of Georgia should send a loud, clear message that we are not going to allow the KKK to adopt our highways and byways,” he said. “Say that firmly and then let the chips fall where they fall.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Kelly Bazzle, CNN
Kevin Liptak, CNN