Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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Editorial

Free speech can sometimes be ugly

Many grow weary of the sight of the yard signs that litter the area during campaign season. But aren’t a few ugly election signs a small price to pay for free speech?

Federal Judge Jeffrey Helmick has issued an injunction to stop Perrysburg from enforcing its zoning code for temporary signs. The city limits the signs, allowing them only for 60 days before an event and requiring they be taken down within seven days after an event.

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City officials defending the code said it was designed to maintain the community’s attractiveness and to limit traffic hazards.

The judge ruled that Perrysburg cannot prohibit the use of political signs on private property, limit the number of days they’re displayed, or threaten to fine or otherwise penalize anyone who displays such signs.

Good for Judge Helmick.

While it may be tempting to use local ordinances to keep a community tidy and protected from the signs that sometimes look like so much litter, those flimsy placards are an essential part of the practice of American democracy.

As the lawyer for the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law who sued Perrysburg over its zoning code said, such signs are not just for promoting candidates. They can be a mechanism for citizens to criticize public officials and are particularly important to political outsiders with few resources.

Candidates and campaign staffs should be good neighbors and collect their yard signs as quickly as possible after election day. But the urge to keep a city beautiful can never trump the need to keep speech free.

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