31 March 2010

There is almost nothing about this story that doesn't anger me

The Agitator | Radley Balko | Federal Judge: Mural Protesting Government Policy Isn’t Protected Political Speech

A federal judge has upheld St. Louis officials’ demands that eminent domain opponent Jim Roos remove the mural pictured here, even though it was put up on on a building Roos owns.
In 2007, the city ordered Roos to take the mural down, saying it violated city sign regulations. City code prohibits any sign larger than 30 square feet in that zoning district; Roos’ mural is more than 360 square feet.

Roos sued to preserve his mural, arguing that it was not a sign, but a piece of art offering a protected political statement.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Henry Edward Autrey rejected that argument, saying the mural — which features the addresses of two affiliated websites –is a “classic example” of the definition of a sign.
So speech can be limited if you direct people on where to seek more information?
“The painting is outside and is used to advertise, identify, direct and attract attention to what petitioners believe is eminent domain abuse. It advertises online addresses for more information,” Autrey wrote. “It attracts attention to the perceived eminent domain abuse.”
Speech is only protected if you refrain from identifying your opinion, and don't attempt to attract people's attention to what you're speaking about?  Speech can be outlawed if the speaker attempts to make himself heard?
Autrey also ruled that the city’s sign ordinance is constitutional because it is “content neutral” — restrictions on signs are based on size and place, not subject.
If Congress placed a blanket ban on all newspapers, regardless of content, that would be okay since it would be "content neutral"?
The prohibition of Roos’ mural, the judge wrote, “relates not to the content of petitioners’ message but, rather, to the method by which they wish to convey it.”
Does anyone really believe that if this was a sign promoting government power the city would be bothering Roos?  If that thing said "Support Public Schools -- Fight Vouchers!" would the city have their tails in a twist?
Autrey found that the city’s desire to maintain aesthetic appeal and not disrupt traffic was sufficient enough to allow for restrictions on the placement of signs.
"Maintain aesthetic appeal"?  Seriously?  Speech can be abrogated because a judge doesn't like how it looks?  Good thing we've got a government of laws and not of men.
Roos was represented by the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based libertarian advocacy group. Lawyers for the group seized on a clause in the city’s sign code that exempts art, as well as flags and fraternal crests, from the restrictions on signs.

Autrey dismissed the relevance of those exemptions, saying they were “not the ’stuff’ of public debate.”
Freedom of expression exists specifically to protect speech about public debates. There's no point in protecting empty platitudes and pretty crests and things that no one objects to.
“The court’s decision gets it precisely backwards,” Michael Bindas, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has made clear that political speech like Jim’s gets the utmost constitutional protection precisely because it is the stuff of public debate.”

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