THE CASE OF THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT SIGN
Disturbed by the number and variety of signs that individuals were putting up within its borders, a city council passed a law prohibiting all signs on private property except for advertising purposes in commercial areas. Houston, a homeowner, pasted a sign on the front door of his house containing an American flag with these words underneath the flag: “Down with City Council—Our rights are being violated.” Houston was arrested for violating the law.
During the trial, a city representative described how many signs had appeared on homes and on lawns, ruining the appearance of the city. He explained that many other cities and villages had experienced the same problems and that the ordinance was reasonable and the only way to solve the problem. Houston testified that the sign he had put up was a small one and that other city residents had raised flags on national holidays and put up signs showing their patriotism; none of those persons had been arrested.
The Arguments at Trial The city’s attorney argued that a city had the authority to regulate signs within its borders to protect the appearance and value of properties. She argued further that the law did not unduly restrict free speech as there were other ways for residents to express their views: radio, television, and the newspapers. Houston’s attorney argued that the regulation violated the freedom of speech provisions of state and federal constititions, was too broad, too vague, and was unreasonable. He argued that the city could have limited the law by restricting signs over a certain size and in certain locations. He further argued that it was unreasonable to restrict the expression of opinions except for use of the media.
Questions to Discussion
1. Who has the stronger arguments, the city or Houston? Why?
2. Do you need any additional information to determine the facts?
3. If you were the judge or jury hearing this case, for whom would you decide? Why?
4. What type of legislation, if any, do you think should be enacted to limit signs in neighborhoods to protect their appearance