WINDER, Ga. - A rally headed by a south Georgia Ku Klux Klan member and featuring the congregation of a predominantly black Atlanta church drew about 250 people to the Barrow County Courthouse on Friday in support of a controversial Ten Commandments display in the downtown Winder building.
A Sept. 17 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Barrow County Commission called its courthouse display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional.
The lawsuit stirred J.J. Harper, a Cordele resident who describes himself as the imperial wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, to join forces with Atlanta's House of Prayer Church against what he calls ACLU's attack on an underlying principle of both the nation and the Klan - Christianity.
"The founding fathers of this nation put the Ten Commandments in the courthouse," Mr. Harper said at the start of the 11:30 a.m. rally as shouts of "Amen" and "Praise God" echoed from the crowd, about half of which was comprised of members of the House of Prayer.
"I'm so glad the KKK stands for the ideals of our church," said Trina Allen, the wife of the House of Prayer's imprisoned pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., as she addressed the crowd from the podium surrounded by her eight children.
Church administrator Charlie Ruth said that the church did not condone Mr. Harper's beliefs by joining his rally, but strongly supported the commission's decision to keep the Ten Commandments display in the courthouse.
Mr. Ruth said the House of Prayer also was persecuted for its beliefs when the pastor and four church members were convicted in October of aggravated assault and cruelty to children for whipping two boys, then 7 and 10, at their Atlanta church in 2001.
The Bible gives parents the right to physically discipline their children and gives a county the right to post the Ten Commandments in its courthouse, Mr. Ruth said.
Congregation member Vickie Hightower called the commission's fight against ACLU and her church's legal troubles symbolic of a greater struggle against a "godless" judicial system condoning homosexuality, abortion and the removal of prayer from schools.
Although Barrow County officials had expressed concern at the rally's possibly volatile mix of Klan politics and a black congregation, Maj. Murray Kogod, of the Barrow County Sheriff's Office, said the crowd's behavior was orderly.
An admitted segregationist, Mr. Harper said that sharing the rally's spotlight with a black church did not conflict with his beliefs.
Mr. Harper, who protested during the Masters Tournament against Martha Burk's push to admit women to Augusta National Golf Club, is the founder of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Klan splinter group.