Last month, we told you about Wayne Weatherbee, a Clermont, Fla., businessman whose free speech rights were being quashed by city officials. Weatherbee erected 12 signs on his business property in October 2009 in political protest against the city, which he claims selectively enforced its laws against him and his business, including falsely arresting him. Beginning Tuesday, February 2, the city began imposing a $75/day fine on Bee's Auto until the signs are removed or Weatherbee obtains a permit.
The ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit on his behalf, and we stand tall and proud to report that ACLU attorneys secured a preliminary injunction in federal court yesterday, when a federal judge ruled from the bench that the city of Clermont is violating Mr. Weatherbee's free speech rights.
"This is a clear victory for Mr. Weatherbee, and for free speech in Florida," said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director, after leaving today's hearing. "When government tries to ride roughshod over free speech and protected political protest, the ACLU will answer the call to action to defend the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Yesterday's ruling found that the signs were clearly speech protected by the First Amendment, and the city had not been able to show any legitimate reason why it could prohibit them. So, Mr. Weatherbee will be allowed to continue displaying the signs on his property, and the city is prohibited from imposing fines against Bee's Auto under the code. Meanwhile, the lawsuit will move forward as the ACLU attempts to permanently strike down the unconstitutional code.
"As the judge said, the relief she granted is extraordinary, under extraordinary circumstances, and in a unique case. This is proof that the little guy can still get a measure of justice in our great society," said Derek Brett, ACLU cooperating attorney.
It's a sweet day for free speech in Central Florida. Someone pass the orange juice, we've still got more work to do...