The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has produced such notables as one-time presidential candidate David Duke, has lost another battle in its bid to paint itself as a benign group merely interested in doing good for white Christians.
A federal magistrate ruled in September that a public radio station in St. Louis could refuse to allow the Knights to underwrite "All Things Considered," National Public Radio's prestigious afternoon news program.
Officials at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, which holds the broadcasting license for KWMU-FM, had argued that the school could lose $5 million a year in gifts and tuition if it were forced to broadcast a Klan promotion.
A lawyer for the Klan said he planned to appeal the verdict.
Michael Cuffley, the Knights' Missouri leader, had sought to underwrite the program and have KWMU air a description of the Klan group as "a white Christian organization, standing up for the rights and values of white Christian America since 1865."
The Klan's promotional announcement — aimed, Cuffley testified, at recruiting from among the highly educated audience of public radio — did not violate the station's underwriting guidelines.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert's decision came down to a crucial legal distinction between "public" and "non-public" forums — those that must accept any kind of speech allowed under the First Amendment to the Constitution and those that are not required to do so.
The Knights have made other efforts to appear mainstream.
In several cases, including two in Missouri, the group has sought to join in government-sponsored Adopt-A-Highway programs. The programs allow groups to take responsibility for cleaning up litter on a portion of roadway in return for states or localities erecting a sign naming the volunteers, typically civic clubs or businesses.
The highway debate has sparked several court cases around the country, with verdicts going both ways. In 1994, St. Louis authorities refused a Knights' request to adopt a highway. Last year, the Knights also applied to the state of Missouri program and was refused. The Knights sued in that case, and a federal trial has been set for March.