Topsham – The ACLU of Maine today demanded that the Town of Topsham return campaign signs that it illegally removed from the private property of multiple residents on Monday.
“Town ordinances that single out political signs for restriction violate the First Amendment,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director at the ACLU of Maine. “We would never ban people from telling their neighbors who they’re going to vote for, and we can’t ban them from putting it on a sign in their yard.”
Topsham Public Works Department employees were directed to remove the signs by town manager Rich Roedner, who cited a town ordinance that prohibits the display of political signs in public right-of-ways except during the 30 days leading up to an election and the 48 hours immediately following. A public right-of-way is defined as any area within 25 feet of the center line of a road and 13 feet from the edge of pavement – which includes land in private yards.
A 1994 Supreme Court decision in City of Ladue v. Gilleo struck down a Ladue, Missouri ordinance prohibiting homeowners from displaying a broad range of signs on their property, with some exceptions including address identification and for sale signs. Since that decision, in response to requests from the ACLU, several Maine towns have agreed not to enforce restrictions on displaying political signs on private property.
The ACLU of Maine’s letter states, “The removal of all political signs from residences without prior notice or explanation has undoubtedly created an environment of apprehension surrounding the exercise of free speech in Topsham… This unconstitutional censorship and chilling of protected, fundamental free speech must be stopped.”
The letter requests that the Town of Topsham return all political signs that were removed from residents’ lawns; agree to cease enforcement of any town ordinance that purports to regulate such sign placement; and begin steps to repeal any such ordinances.
A copy of the letter is available online at: http://www.aclumaine.org/media/979