FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 7, 2020
St. Louis: On Monday, July 6th, the ACLU of Missouri was granted a victory in a lawsuit on behalf of Bel-Nor homeowner Lawrence Willson, who was threatened with fines and imprisonment for violating a Bel-Nor ordinance by placing political signs in his yard. The court concluded it was appropriate to issue a permanent injunction barring enforcement or threatened enforcement of the ordinance.
The ordinance prohibited any sign on a window or a wall and limited each residential parcel to a single yard sign and a single flag. Willson initially received a warning from a Bel-Nor police officer in June 2018 regarding the three signs posted in his front yard, which violated a restriction on political messages. The ACLU informed Bel-Nor on Willson’s behalf that restriction was unconstitutional, and Willson was contacted by the now-former mayor and informed that the law would be repealed. With this reassurance, he continued to display his signs. However, even after changes were made to Bel-Nor’s restrictions on home signs, residents remained limited to one sign and one flag per property. Willson was once again accused of violating the ordinance—and this time he was charged criminally and threatened with fines and imprisonment.
On Monday, Judge Ronnie L. White ruled that Bel-Nor’s sign ordinance violates the First Amendment by being both content-based and overbroad. It infringes not just Willson’s free speech rights but those of other Bel-Nor residents as well. Judge White issued a permanent injunction.
As we see citizens across the country speak out against racial injustice and police brutality, and with elections upcoming, it is crucial that citizens’ rights to free expression are protected.
Quote, Tony Rothert Legal Director ACLU of Missouri:
“As we enter election season, it is important that local governments respect the right of the residents to engage in political speech on their own property. There is a long tradition of residents publicly expressing their views on significant issues by employing a political yard sign. This tradition is at the heart of what the First Amendment protects.”
Decision attached below: