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Public station allowed to reject Ku Klux Klan underwriting

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Public station allowed to reject Ku Klux Klan underwriting 01/25/99 MISSOURI--In early December, U.S. Magistrate Thomas Mummert in St. Louis…

Public station allowed to reject Ku Klux Klan underwriting

01/25/99

MISSOURI–In early December, U.S. Magistrate Thomas Mummert in St. Louis ruled that KWMU-FM, a non-profit St. Louis radio station owned and operated by the University of Missouri, did not violate the Ku Klux Klan’s First Amendment rights when it refused to air a 15- second promotional announcement of the Klan.

Mummert ruled that KWMU is not a designated public forum and therefore its rejection of the Missouri Klan’s underwriting offer did not violate the First Amendment. Mummert ruled that the Klan cannot ask courts to guarantee it access to all media just because its viewpoints are unpopular.

The Klan had asked KWMU to air an ‘underwriting spot’ about the organization and its activities. An underwriting spot is a 15-second message read in exchange for a financial gift, which is acknowledged on the air. The radio station refused, claiming that to do so would cause severe economic repercussions as donors withheld contributions in protest.

The Klan sued the radio station in federal District Court in St. Louis, claiming the state owned station violated its First Amendment rights. It said that KWMU’s underwriting practices make it a designated public forum and consequently its underwriting offer had to be accepted. The Klan told the court it is being discriminated against because of its social and political views.

KWMU argued that it is not a designated public forum. The station said that it has the right to reject any gifts or donations. The station also reiterated to the court that the school could lose millions of dollars in gifts and student tuition and have trouble recruiting future donors if it accepted Klan advertising. (Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Bennett; Counsel: Katherine Bunn, Columbia)