ACLU-NJ Challenges Bans on Political Lawn Signs

July 1, 2008

NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced actions to stop two municipalities from unconstitutionally prohibiting political yard signs - one on behalf of a Ron Paul supporter and another for a Barack Obama backer.

"The free exchange of ideas is an essential part of our democracy. These bans on political signs prevent people from engaging in a traditional American pastime: expressing your view," said cooperating attorney Lawrence Ross, a partner at the law firm of Bressler Amery & Ross, who sent the Shrewsbury letter. "No matter your opinion, you are free to express it, regardless of any time frame."

The ACLU-NJ has come to the aid of Hawthorne resident and Ron Paul supporter Andrew Gause, who was issued a citation for displaying signs supporting Ron Paul's candidacy for the Republican nomination. The ACLU-NJ lawsuit on his behalf, filed in federal district court in Newark, challenges the enforcement of a Borough of Hawthorne ordinance that bans political signs except during the window of time 32 days before an election and seven days after.

The Hawthorne ordinance would keep residents from putting up signs for Obama, McCain or any other political cause throughout the summer until the beginning of October, despite the fact that the campaigns are in full swing and a central part of current public debate.

"Posting a sign on my private property is a basic right guaranteed by the Constitution," said Gause. "I hope this lawsuit inspires others to stand up to fight for our constitutional rights, and I hope the borough of Hawthorne is held accountable. Free speech is the most basic American right, and the consequences for breaking it must be taken seriously."

The ACLU-NJ also sent a letter to the Borough of Shrewsbury on behalf of a Barack Obama supporter who received a notice giving her two options: remove the Obama sign or risk receiving a summons. The letter requested that the borough repeal its similarly unconstitutional ordinance: a wholesale ban on political signs except during the 60-day period before an election and the five days afterward.

"Election season often reveals unreasonable restrictions on campaign signs," said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director for the ACLU-NJ, "but the right to speak one's mind about politics is at the heart of the First Amendment."

The ACLU-NJ successfully challenged a similar ordinance against the Borough of Franklin Lakes in 2001.

The current legal action -- Andrew Gause v. Borough of Hawthorne, Patrick Botbyl, Robert Scully, and Donald Turner -- was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

A copy of the complaint can be found at /download_file/view/77/668

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