Signs and the First Amendment

September 17, 2008
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The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up the case of a Plainfield man who says a city zoning ordinance tramples his First Amendment right to free speech.

Plainfield officials told the man, Nick Crews, to take down a political sign he posted in his yard because it was set out more than 30 days prior to an election.

Cities and towns are losing these kinds of court battles.

Should government regulate political signs? If so, where should it draw the line?
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  • The government should have absolutely no right in saying this man can not have a political sign in his yard. The government does not own the sign, or the land it sits on, so how can it force this person to remove it?
  • The local government ordinance SHOULD be enforced absent evidence of disparate application. Municipalities typically have ordinances such as these to protect property values against long-term littering of the landscape with signs of a variety of subjects. As long as all politcal signage has the same requirements, and enforcement of the ordinance is uniform, there should be no problem with the ordinance. This ordinance is NOT stating that political signs cannot be displayed - rather, just that the signage can only be displayed during a particular period of time, and I would assume that the signage meets a certain size requirement, etc. If the ICLU's argument that this is political free speech that is subject to NO regulation, a logical extension of their argument would be that a lighted, neon 10 x 12 sign could be displayed year round in support of a political candidate. While the sign in question does not appear to have these extreme circumstances attached to it, and the argument would be, I presume, that this sign is reasonable, who is left to determine what is reasonable? Different municipalities have different time limits - Marion County apparently has a longer limit, as political signs are out now, and that is the way it ought to be. Those that we place in a position of responsibility to protect us and our property values should make those decisions. I proffer that the reasonableness is determined by the elected representatives, and if the populace doesn't agree with those making the decisions, the political speech that is protected by the constitution is the right to vote the offensive parties or representatives out of office.
  • As a resident of the Plainfield community, I second Mr. Hoover's well-articulated position. It is equally applied to all.
    Further, I submit my opinion that if the sign had been supporting McCain, or any conservative, that the ICLU would have had no interest in the case.
  • Kevin,

    You state that Municipalities typically have ordinances such as these to protect property values against long-term littering of the landscape with signs of a variety of subjects. as if it were the government's job to do so. If a neighbor of this man claims this negatively affects his property value he can take it up with the proper authorities on an individual basis. Let the individual decide this, not the government. A blanket ban from the government with (what I would assume) little to no evidence as to how negatively a property value would be affected is out of line. It is clear violation of this man's property rights.

    You state: This ordinance is NOT stating that political signs cannot be displayed... but that is EXACTLY what it is doing. The ordinance states that this man can not display his sign. Whatever time limit is placed on it doesn't matter matter. This man is legally barred from placing his sign on his yard. I wonder if you would advocate that government agents show up at his house and forcibly remove the sign, or issue him a subpoena.

    You ask: who is left to determine what is “reasonable?” It seems that you are advocating that we should rely on the government to determine for us what is reasonable. You want to take the interpretation away from ordinary citizens it appears. Wouldn't it be better if every yard had more trees? Should the government go around and fine or sue individuals that don't have this exact amount of trees.

    You state: Those that we place in a position of responsibility to protect us and our property values What a scary statement from you. The government should be enforcing individual property rights instead of doing its best to protect us from our evil neighbors that put up sings a week too early.

    Ultimately this issue is one of individual freedom versus the freedom of the government to determine what is right. Individual freedoms are more important than arbitrary rules used to limit property rights.
  • Umm, Government does have the right to declare Immanent (sp?) domain, but this guy does have the right to express what he wants in his own yard (short of public indecency [sp?]) Question is not, is this guy's first adminment being fringed upon, or is this sign uncalled for? If it was a year-and-a-half later (or so), (i assume) most people would side with the government, but since it is before the election, I say why not put it up? I have seen signs up everywhere. Is every city different on the sign laws?
  • Indianapolis already lost the lawsuit against it when Goldsmith tried to make someone take down a sign critical of him. That is why their ordinance is more flexible. That is why anyone can put up a public opinion sign in their yard, within certain size and height restrictions.
  • This country was not founded to be the breadbasket to a bunch of attorneys. If the only recourse for citizens seeking relief from a less-than-carrying neighbor is to take them to court then that is exactly what we will have become. You've no doubt heard the joke What is a barge filled with attorneys sinking in the middle of the ocean? A good start!
    Respect and consideration has gone out the window under the guise of protecting someone's first amendment rights but what about the quiet enjoyment of another's property without garish signage diminshing the neighborhood? For years candidates and supporters put up their signs and never take them down. Right versus responsibility, you shouldn't have one without the other but the courts do a lousy job of enforcing responsibilities, but hey, rights cannot be trampled upon.
    Mr. Crews says he wants the sign to start a conversation but I doubt he would be receptive to anyone coming up to his house at anytime (say 3 AM) to discuss his political views. This would clearly be an unreasonable time but with no ordinance to prevent it, he is left with any individual's choice as to what is reasonable.
  • bda1205,

    You state, Mr. Crews says he wants the sign to start a conversation but I doubt he would be receptive to anyone coming up to his house at anytime (say 3 AM) to discuss his political views. This would clearly be an unreasonable time but with no ordinance to prevent it, he is left with any individual’s choice as to what is reasonable.

    This argument makes no sense. If people went up to his door and knocked on it at 3 am he can (and probably would) legally bar people from coming on to his property. That's why the police and government are there. To enforce his property rights. It's all these little laws and ordinances that gradually erode our freedoms.

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