Kan. man fined for anti-war signs in his yard

By The Associated Press
12.28.05

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — A suburban Kansas City man is appealing a ticket Prairie Village gave him for homemade yard signs opposing the war in Iraq.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri is helping David Quinly appeal the citation in Johnson County District Court. Quinly sought the ACLU's help after losing an appeal in municipal court.

At issue is a Prairie Village ordinance prohibiting signs bigger than 5 square feet and limiting the total area of temporary signs displayed on a property to 10 square feet. Signs can't be up more than 60 days.

"It's clearly a First Amendment issue," said Quinly's attorney, John Simpson. "We think ... that the Prairie Village sign ordinance is too restrictive."

Quinly had been putting up anti-war signs in his yard since before the U.S. entered Iraq. He was warned two signs exceeded the size limit, but he kept them up, believing any resulting fine would be $20 or $30. After he was cited Sept. 20, he was surprised to find out the fine was $300, an amount he considered excessive.

Quinly said he understood why cities restrict signs, but said political signs should be less restricted than others, not more.

Simpson said he would argue that Prairie Village restricts political signs more than other signs; the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed such content-based discrimination unconstitutional.

"You've discriminated, in effect, against political speech, which is the speech most protected in our (First) Amendment," Simpson said.

Issues surrounding temporary signs don't usually apply to commercial signs, said City Attorney Charles Wetzler.

The ordinance says sign placement and size must be restricted to prevent them from creating traffic hazards. The sign ordinance also seeks to prevent "visual clutter" in neighborhoods.

"The law changes all the time in this area," Wetzler said, noting the latest version of the ordinance was drafted with the ACLU's input. "There have been new cases that come out, and if we need to look at it, we will."

University of Kansas law professor Mike Kautsch said it was not unusual for cities to limit signs for aesthetic reasons. But, he said, "If it's on a matter of public concern, the courts are usually going to be quite protective on the matter of a yard sign."

"The idea is to make sure these ordinances are clearly content-neutral, that they don't restrict a sign in any way because of the nature of that message," Kautsch said.