ACLU sues Fraser over sign code, claims First Amendment violation
Editor’s note: This report was updated at 5 p.m. with comment from Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the town of Fraser on behalf of two residents who argue that the town violated their First Amendment rights when it prohibited them from displaying yard signs with political and social messages.
According to a Thursday news release, Fraser residents Melinda McWilliams and Alan Jensen began posting two-sided displays in their yard with messages about U.S. President Donald Trump and calling for action on global warming in 2016.
Ultimately, McWilliams and Jensen had eight signs in Jensen’s yard until September 2018 when they received a letter from the town telling them to remove the signs or face prosecution for violating the sign code.
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“Fraser’s sign code imposes drastic and unjustifiable limits on residents’ rights to express their views with messages posted on their own property,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director, in the release. “The Constitution does not allow this kind of government censorship of expression. The town’s sign code is a content-based regulation of speech that violates the First Amendment.”
The code requires any and each sign in town be permitted and meet specific size, location and safety guidelines, as well as having residents pay a fee for each permit. Yard signs are restricted to one sign per lot and not to exceed 6 square feet.
“The Town of Fraser respects First Amendment freedom of speech rights,” said Jeff Durbin, Fraser town manager, in a statement. “We take this matter seriously and are currently reviewing the complaint.”
Durbin added that the town changed the sign code in 2018 to “avoid any infringement on freedom of speech.”
Fraser’s sign code makes violations punishable with fines and up to a year in jail, but it doesn’t restrict works of art.
The ACLU notes that McWilliams and Jensen removed the original signs and submitted sketches for new signs that they felt would be exempt under the works of art exception. However, the town argued the sketches would still violate the sign code.
Lawyers from the ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Denver Thursday morning, along with a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the sign code.
The lawsuit seeks nominal damages and a “judicial declaration that the challenged ordinance violates the First Amendment.”
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