ACLU campaigns for Michigan towns to allow political yard signs

By The Associated Press
07.03.04

FERNDALE, Mich. — The American Civil Liberties Union is warning municipalities in southeastern Michigan that ordinances limiting the display of campaign signs on lawns are repressing freedom of expression.

With the Aug. 3 primary elections approaching, the ACLU sent out letters to the managers and mayors of 10 Oakland County communities to get them to change their yard-sign ordinances, The Daily Oakland Press reported for a July 1 story.

The organization reviewed ordinances throughout the county after receiving a complaint from a Ferndale resident who was ticketed for having more than one political sign in his yard last year.

The ACLU found that some cities restrict the size or number of political signs per yard, while others require residents to get permits before staking their political preferences in their lawns.

"That's certainly a way to kill free speech," Elsa Shartsis, who chairs the legal committee for the organization's Oakland County branch, told the Detroit Free Press.

She said that prohibiting residents from displaying campaign signs for any reason is a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to Ferndale, the ACLU sent letters to Novi, Oak Park, Rochester Hills, Orchard Lake, Royal Oak, South Lyon, Southfield, Waterford and Troy. The group says it hopes the cities will review and modify their ordinances.

If they don't, Shartsis says, the ACLU will assist those who are ticketed in fighting the citations in court.

Local officials said the sign ordinances are needed to keep their communities looking clean.

"We have a long record of making ordinance decisions based on aesthetics," said Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin.

He said, however, that the city is considering changing its ordinance to allow owners of homes on corner lots to display two signs instead of one.

Other Oakland County municipalities are also weighing their options after receiving the letter.

"I gave a copy to our attorney and sent a copy to community planning for them to take a look at it," said Waterford Township Supervisor Carl Solden.

Solden said residents are able to put up signs 30 days before elections, and displays have to come down five days after elections.