ACLU Challenges Local Georgia County Ordinance Restricting Flags and Other Lawn Decorations

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
July 6, 2000 12:00 am

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ATLANTA, GA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of local residents challenging a county ordinance that makes it illegal to post signs and flags on private residential property.

“Individuals enjoy a First Amendment right to display signs and flags on their own property,” said Robert L. Tsai, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. “It is as American as apple pie. Yet DeKalb County denies its residents two time-honored methods of political activism and self-expression.”

The ACLU has challenged the ordinance as a violation of citizens’ right to free speech and control of their property, and is seeking a court order to bar the County from further enforcing the law.

The controversy began when Katherine and Joseph Nash, placed a sign saying “GREEDY DEVELOPERS SUCK” in their yard, as a protest against the pace of development in the metro area. A Code Enforcement Officer ordered the Nashes to take down the sign as well as two other small signs and two flags depicting a smiling sun and cat.

“We feel that our artistic and political expression has been suppressed,” the Nashes said in a statement issued today. “This kind of censorship frightens us.”

The sign ordinance prohibits virtually all signs and flags posted on residential property, including those bearing political, religious, social, or personally expressive messages. Violation of the law can bring a fine of up to $1,000, 30 days in jail, or 60 days in a “work gang.”

According to the ACLU, expression criminalized under the ordinance includes flying the gay rights rainbow flag and the POW/MIA flag, posting protest signs or politically oriented signs and flags, and posting expressive artwork.

“I can’t think of anything that demonstrates my freedom of expression more than to be able to fly the flag I choose on my personal property,” said Anthony Don George, M.D., an ACLU client represented in the lawsuit.

ACLU clients and DeKalb County residents Robert and Eugene Calhoun added, “Flying the rainbow flag shows our pride.”

Joining the lawsuit are State Representatives June Hegstrom and Gerard D. Hegstrom, and the Chairman of the Democratic Party in DeKalb County.

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