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RALEIGH – Late this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan ruled that the Town of Cary had violated the free speech rights of homeowner David Bowden when it enforced its sign ordinance in such a way that would have prevented him from expressing a message of political protest on the front of his own house.
Judge Flanagan wrote, “Constitutional jurisprudence demonstrates a special sensitivity to a citizen’s right to speak at his home through the use of residential signs.” The Court declared the Cary sign ordinance unconstitutional as applied to Mr. Bowden and issued a permanent injunction against the Town, preventing the ordinance from being enforced against Mr. Bowden.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, challenging the Town’s assessment of fines against Cary homeowner David Bowden for a political protest sign that he had painted on the front of his house. In July 2009, Mr. Bowden hired someone to paint “Screwed By The Town of Cary” on the front of his house because he was angry about the way he had been treated by the Town regarding damage done to his property during a road-widening project. The Town then threatened to fine Mr. Bowden hundreds of dollars per day if he did not remove this sign from his house. In its complaint, the ACLU-NCLF alleged that these threats violate Mr. Bowden’s rights to free speech and to petition his government under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and similar provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling today,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU-NCLF. “The Town was attempting to censor Mr. Bowden because it didn’t like what he had to say. Enforcement of the Town’s sign ordinance under these circumstances was a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
Mr. Bowden is represented by Mark Sigmon of Graebe Hanna & Welborn, PLLC, in Raleigh, North Carolina, as Cooperating Attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, as well as by Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.
A copy of the judge’s order, along with the complaint, will be posted shortly on the ACLU of North Carolina’s website at http://www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/.