Yard signs are freedom of expression

   Many people like to express their support for a political candidate with a yard sign. Sometimes this form of freedom of expression conflicts with a city law banning or limiting the time in which political signs may be displayed. The question becomes whether such city laws infringe upon citizens’ and perhaps the candidates’ First Amendment rights.

     Some city officials claim that putting limits on yard signs furthers a variety of state interests, including aesthetics and traffic safety. However, opponents of such regulations counter that yard signs, unlike perhaps large billboards too close to public streets, do not in any way reduce traffic safety. They also contend that aesthetic interests pale in comparison to the importance of political speech expressed in campaign signs.

     In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Missouri city law prohibiting signs at private residences. Margaret Gilleo ran afoul of the law when she placed a 24-by-36-inch sign in her front lawn with the words, “Say No to War in the Persian Gulf, Call Congress Now” and an 8 ½-by-11-inch sign in the second-story window of her home that read, “For Peace in the Gulf.”

      A city may regulate the size, shape and location of yard signs. Such regulations may very well qualify as content-neutral and reasonable “time, place and manner” restrictions on speech. Similarly, a city may be able to establish a 10-sign limit per residence on yard signs. At some point, the sheer number of signs might realistically impair the aesthetics of a neighborhood.

     So, if you object to the signs in your yard during this municipal election, remember, the same people who are putting the signs out there are the ones who could have regulated political signs years ago. Now they want you to vote for them again. Ask them about their signs.

About Chris Elkins

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