Categorized | Featured, Opinion

Henrico County Violates First Amendment and Settled Supreme Court Law by Banning TEA Party Signs

Henrico County, Virginia has decided to toss the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, settled Supreme Court Validated Law and common sense by demanding that individuals remove signs from their own private property or pay fees to the County.

In 1994, a lady named Margaret P. Gilleo lived in a Missouri town called Ladue. Gilleo was upset with the Gulf War and decided that the best way to express her opinion was a sign in her yard that read “Say No to War in the Persian Gulf. Call Congress Now.

After the sign had been up a short while, someone took it down in the middle of the night. Gilleo put up a second sign and that, too, disappeared. So she contacted the police who told her that her sign violated a town ordnance banning signs.

So Margaret Gilleo took the town to court. And the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court. And the decision was unanimous. (How often does that happen?)

Here is what the Supreme Court said in part:

(c) Ladue’s attempt to justify the ordinance as a “time, place, or manner” restriction fails because alternatives such as handbills and newspaper advertisements are inadequate substitutes for the important medium that Ladue has closed off. Displaying a sign from ones’ own residence carries a message quite distinct from placing the same sign someplace else, or conveying the same text or picture by other means, for it provides information about the speaker’s identity, an important component of many attempts to persuade. Residential signs are also an unusually cheap and convenient form of communication. Furthermore, the audience intended to be reached by a residential sign – neighbors – could not be reached nearly as well by other means.

So it is clearly established and settled that under the first amendment, one has the right to display a sign on one’s own property. Now there may be reasonable restrictions to consider, such as a safety issue with a sign blocking the view on a cross street or some unreasonably large sign that could fall over and cause injury. And there are some opinions that 10 or more signs on a person’s land could possibly be regulated. But these issues do not apply in this case.

Now if we look at Henrico’s sign ordinance Sec. 24-104. Signs, one thing that is immediately apparent is that the ordinance is silent on political signs. In fact, all of the “free speech” type signs are not even mentioned. For instance, political yard signs which every member of the Henrico Board of Supervisors has purchased and peppered the County with. In fact, the word “political” does not even appear in the ordinance.

So does the county require a permit for each and every yard sign their constituents place in their yards during elections?

Absolutely not!

Note the phrase “unusually cheap” in the Gilleo decision and consider that the County of Henrico wants to charge $40 for a permit to allow TEA Party signs on one’s own property. Yet they have never required a permit for their own political yard signs.

Would it be hard to convince a court that political signs are held to a different standard than TEA Party signs in Henrico? They both let your neighbors know how you feel on an issue and the Supreme Court has already found that to be a unique form of free speech as we see in the quote from the case above.

And one of the things that the Supreme Court also frowns on is treating political free speech differently based on the content of the speech. Now it is no secret that the Henrico Board of Supervisors is not amused by TEA Party signs that are as far from the beliefs of most of them as they could possibly be. But the Supreme Court has already ruled that government cannot charge more for speech they do not like than any other.

In 1992, a case named FORSYTH COUNTY, GEORGIA, PETITIONER v. THE NATIONALIST MOVEMENT was settled by the Supreme Court.

It seems that Forsyth County wanted to charge more to the Nationalist Movement because their speech was controversial and cost them more to keep the peace than something non-controversial. Now this case involved public property and permit fees to speak on a public corner, but the Supreme Court said the fees to cover the cost of police were unconstitutional. And there have been several other attempts to force the Nationalist Movement to pay more to exercise their right to free speech including one in New Jersey where they tried to force the Movement to pay for bonds to cover potential damages. In the end, New Jersey lost and was forced to pay substantial attorneys fees. (A case the Richmond TEA Party may want to review.)

The Henrico Sign Ordinance speaks to signs that the county is allowed to regulate. Commercial signs are not necessarily a matter of free speech. But political signs and TEA Party signs are, within reason, not subject to regulation and should not be subjected to fees. Especially when Henrico has already established a practice of allowing political free speech in the form of political yard signs.

And how many Churches change the message on their signs weekly? Has the Henrico Board of Supervisors attempted to charge them $40 each week? Religious free speech is just as Constitutionally sacred as political free speech.

Henrico County may not like the content of the signs in question, but that is irrelevant. And as long as the signs do not present a public safety issue – a real public safety issue – the Board of Supervisors is without authority under the Constitution to stifle, prohibit, tax or regulate these types of signs. And unless they are prepared to force every constituent to pay $40 for a permit for one of their yard signs placed on personal property next election, they should just consider this matter closed and allow the signs to remain without a permit. Otherwise, the courts will have no problem finding a double standard.

It is free speech. There is nothing for the County to review, approve or require a “fee” for.

Now if a neighborhood homeowners group objects and prohibits such signs in a neighborhood, the courts have ruled that this is Constitutional. Neighborhood Associations are not government.

Henrico County is government.

They need to read the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That is the only law that applies.


About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog. Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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