ACLU of Ohio Challenges Toledo Sign Code On Behalf of Man Whose Sign Criticized Mayor

September 5, 2001 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND–Town officials violated the free speech rights of a South Toledo man when they prosecuted and fined him for displaying a yard sign that was critical of the mayor, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said today in a lawsuit.

“”Political signs are one of the few ways in which most Americans can freely and economically express their discontent with the government,”” said Raymond Vasvari, ACLU of Ohio Legal Director. “”Codes which limit that expression, or allow officials to punish expression with broad discretion, are simply un-American.””

James Stamm was convicted in June 2001 of displaying a sign affixed to his front porch. As a result of his conviction and fine, the ACLU said in legal papers, he fears erecting another sign in future.

The current Toledo sign code, most of which was passed in the early 1950s, contains a massive amount of regulations governing signs of all types. Like many such codes, it effectively prohibits all signs, subject to certain exceptions. Unless a sign falls into one of a number of categories in which it is exempt from regulation, a permit is required before displaying it.

Although the Toledo Code allows political signs, it defines them as applying only to candidates for public office and ballot issues. A political sign like that displayed by Stamm, which expressed discontent with the mayor, is not expressly permitted by the code, and therefore is forbidden.

The ACLU’s lawsuit also focuses on other sections of the code, which vaguely prohibits “”immoral”” signs, while allowing a broad range of other signs and messages under circumstances similar to those for which Stamm was fined.

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