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American Civil Liberties Union Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Sam Shaw
Updated November 1, 2016 7:45 AM
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(BEDFORD) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of a Bedford man who is challenging a new city ordinance regulating yard signs that he believes is suppressing his political expression.

The lawsuit against the City of Bedford claims the ordinance, passed by the Bedford City Council in September, violates the First and the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The ACLU of Indiana filed the case on behalf of Samuel Shaw, who is seeking to stop the city from enforcing the sign ordinance.

Shaw, who for years has placed signs expressing his opinions in his yard on I Street, received a letter from the city's planning director informing him that he was in violation of the ordinance and that the "penalty for sign violations is $300 per day." He removed the signs from his property.

"The ordinance's limitation of one general use sign on a resident's lawn is particularly oppressive during election time, when citizens wish to voice their support and opposition for multiple candidates and political issues," said Jan Mensz, ACLU of Indiana attorney, in a news release issued by the organization.

The ordinance has several provisions that the lawsuit alleges violate the Constitution, including what the suit says are:

  • A provision prohibiting permanent nongovernmental signs on residential properties and imposing an unconstitutionally vague and content-based definition of what constitutes a "temporary" sign.
  • A content-based provision imposing temporal and quantity restrictions that depend on whether the sign is advertising a special event, an open house or the sale or rental of a property.
  • A nonconformity provision that incorporates content-based restrictions from a prior ordinance that are unconstitutional.
  • A provision that limits the number of signs with an unregulated message to one outdoor sign, and one small sign in a resident's window.

"The Supreme Court recently held that the kind of regulations that the city of Bedford has instituted violate the First Amendment of the Constitution," Mensz said.

The city of Bedford prepared the following statement:

The City of Bedford Planning Commission began reviewing the city sign ordinance a few years ago. The sign ordinance was reviewed and revised by a special committee of the Planning Commission and subsequently passed by the Planning Commission. A public hearing was held prior to passage by the City Council on April 14, 2015.

On June 18, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Reed vs. Town of Gilbert that sign ordinances implemented by many municipalities were null and void based on content restrictions. The citizens of Bedford were informed of this ruling and all sign enforcement ceased with the exception of setback rules and placement of signage on public right-of-way.

Subsequently, the special committee of the Planning Commission began working on a new sign ordinance to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. The result was Ordinance 15-2016 that was passed by the Bedford City Council in September 2016. The current sign ordinance specifies the size and number of signs allowed on residential and non-residential property but does not stipulate restrictions on content.

Elected officials of the City of Bedford took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of Indiana and are wholeheartedly committed to upholding their statutes. There is a lack of case studies in existence for local units of government to determine best practices for sign regulation implementation following the newest Supreme Court ruling. Accordingly, we look forward to addressing this matter and resolving it as quickly as possible.

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