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Trying On Green Hoods?

The Ku Klux Klan has won the right to participate in Missouri's highway beautification program.

But two new signs along Interstate 55 in St. Louis recognizing the Klan's participation did not last long. By nightfall Tuesday, both signs had been cut down and removed - hours after they went up - apparently by motorists disgusted with their message:

The signs read: "Adopt-A-Highway. Next mile adopted by Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Missouri."

It will take about eight weeks to replace the signs, which cost taxpayers about $75, officials said.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this is going to go on," said Highway Patrol Sgt. Terry St. Clair. "The thing people have to realize is that we have to do what the courts tell us. Right now, the courts say the signs can be there."

The Klan's national director defended Missouri's decision to allow the group to take part in the program.

"Most decent people are concerned about the environment," said Thomas Robb, director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Missouri reluctantly granted the Klan an Adopt-A-Highway application after five years of legal battles. The state is appealing a federal court ruling that it cannot deny the Klan from participating in the litter-control program.

It's an issue that has affected other states.

In May, high school students in Palatine, Ill., claimed every available inch of highways earmarked for the program after officials said they would be forced to let the Klan participate. The students rushed to file their applications, leaving the Klan on the waiting list.

When the Klan asked to participate in Maryland's Anne Arundel County this year, county officials took the signs down rather than let the KKK participate.

Some community leaders are suggesting a similar course of action in Missouri.

"We understand First Amendment rights. But this is wrong," said James Buford, president of the St. Louis Urban League.

The state transportation department may consider ending the program, spokeswoman Linda Wilson said, but "we really don't want to do that because we have 4,700 adopters who are helping us."

In Adopt-A-Highway programs, private citizens clean up a section of highway that they sponsor. The programs began in Texas in 1985. Aside from Maine and Vermont, all states have their own programs, each with different rules and contracts.

The only other highway known to be adopted by the Klan was sponsored by Robb's local Klan chapter in Harrison, Ark., near the Missouri state line, said Joanne Orr, president of the International Adopt-A-Highway Association. The Klan had picked up trash there for three years but did not renew their application in 1998.