What does the KKK's case against Georgia say about the First Amendment?

Understatement of the century: The KKK isn't exactly known for doing nice things.

The white supremacist hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan started in the mid 1800s and still exists today, albeit in much smaller and less active factions.

One of those factions, named the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is in Georgia.


And believe it or not ... the group wants to pick up trash as part of Georgia's adopt-a-highway program.

While that may sound like a good thing, consider the fact that as part of the program, all motorists driving along the Appalachian stretch of highway near the North Carolina border would have to drive past a sign that says "IKK Realm of GA, Ku Klux Klan."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Which is why the state of Georgia saw the KKK's request and responded with a resounding, "Thanks but no thanks."

Now, the monthslong conflict over the hate group's right to free speech and Georgia's inclination to not hang a giant KKK ad on the highway is heading to the state's supreme court.

The interesting thing about this case is that, while free speech is at the heart of the issue, it's not really a free speech case.

The case largely boils down to the concept of "state sovereign immunity," which essentially says that no one can criminally prosecute the state without the state's consent.

To put it simply: The KKK wanted to participate in a state-sanctioned adopt-a-highway program which would involve having a sign promoting their hate group on government property. The state of Georgia declined that request, at which point the KKK decided to sue the state for infringing on its right to free speech. The state of Georgia then cited "state sovereign immunity" and said, "Nope, sorry, we can't be sued for that."

Maya Dillard Smith, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia, told The Washington Post that the state's sovereign immunity claim is "disheartening."

Frankly, if the state of Georgia doesn't want to hang up a big sign with the KKK's name on it just to get a couple miles of highway cleaned, it's hard to disagree with that decision.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

The ACLU's argument, however, is that refusing to allow the KKK to participate in adopt-a-highway sets a dangerous precedent of regulating speech.

"It will be expanding the right of the state to engage in viewpoint discrimination," Smith said in a statement, explaining that if the state wins the case, it will be given "a license to refuse participation of individuals and groups whose speech the government disagrees with."

β€œToday it’s the KKK," Smith told the Post, "Tomorrow it’s journalists, lobbyists, religious evangelicals and even Black Lives Matter."

Of course, "slippery slope" arguments like that are a logical fallacy and can easily be argued in the other direction: Today it's a KKK sign, tomorrow it's a KKK billboard, a KKK recruitment center...

You get the picture.

Legal nuances aside, the case does raise a lot of difficult questions about our First Amendment right to free speech.

If it seems strange that the ACLU is defending a hate group's right to free speech, it's worth noting that the organization has a history of defending free speech for noted hate groups, including the American Nazi party and, on multiple other occasions, the KKK.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU in 2006. Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.

And as tough as it may be to swallow, all of those parties do have the right to express their beliefs in America. That whole "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it" thing isn't just a patriotic Instagram quote graphic; it's actually one of the things that makes America great.

The right to speak freely is a fixture of democracy that we take pretty seriously.

The right to free speech doesn't mean the right to free speech without consequences. Problems arise when what's being said goes beyond being just "disagreeable."

The KKK's message has always been one of hate and racism, and their history is deeply saturated in violence, murder, and rape.

If you're someone whose ideals are entrenched in violence and hate, one of the consequences of you exercising your right to free speech might just be your government telling you to please shut the hell up.

Yes, you. Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images.

That's true for any entity. Free speech is often misinterpreted as the right to say or promote whatever you want wherever you want, but there are restrictions. For example, you can't yell "fire" in a movie theatre or promote violence against women on Facebook (though the latter is more recent and, disappointingly, only loosely enforced).

Things get more complicated when you're talking about governments, and the ACLU raises an interesting question about setting precedents that would allow the government to censor groups it simply doesn't agree with.

That's why laws about defining and litigating hate speech are still the subject of much debate and controversy here in America.

That's also why we have supreme courts. In this case, the Supreme Court of Georgia's job is to interpret the Constitution's assertion of "free speech."

Interpreting and defining just what the Constitution protects under the First Amendment is no easy task, especially because the parameters of "free speech" are constantly shifting, evolving, and growing on a case-by-case basis.

Just in the last couple of years, the United States Supreme Court has had to interpret and rule on free speech as it applies to animal cruelty, promoting illegal drug use, and abortion buffer zones.

Supreme Court justices are the final defenders and interpreters of our Constitution, and even they have to constantly rethink and reinterpret what the seemingly simple concept of "freedom of speech" actually means.

So when the Senate Judiciary Committee says it won't have any hearings to confirm a presidential appointment to the United States Supreme Court, they're not just playing politics. They're playing fast and loose with some of the most important moral and legal decisions this country has to make.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who's said he will reject any Supreme Court nomination made by President Barack Obama. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

We'll soon find out if the state of Georgia has the right to disallow a hate-group group from participating in the adopt-a-highway program that is open to any other citizen.

Whether you think censoring a hate group is the right thing to do or that to do so would set a dangerous precedent, this case shines a light on just how complicated free speech can be and how important cases like this are to pay attention to.

Freedom of speech is something many of us take for granted. But it can be challenged, expanded, or restricted as time goes on and culture changes. But it's an inalienable right that we'll have as long as there are people willing to defend it.

via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

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via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer β€” most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving β€” and for longer β€” than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval β€” an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases β€” something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."