The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on an interesting First Amendment case:
A soft-spoken teacher posted the words "Impeach Bush" in a public garden, and Kent police cast him as an outlaw. . . .I don't think there's much question that the government can prohibit placing signs on public property. One of the interesting aspects of this case, however, is the claim that political campaigns and realtors are rarely ticketed for placing free-standing signs that are easily removed, suggesting that the police here engaged in viewpoint discrimination in enforcing the local law.
Police ticketed Egler for unlawfully advertising in a public place because he put up a free-standing sign near the intersection of Haymarket Parkway and Willow and Main streets.
Egler said the officer who cited him July 25 asked: "Why don't you put the signs in your own yard?" Egler said his response was that he's a taxpayer and views the public space very much as his yard. . . .
Egler and about a dozen friends and associates have placed hundreds of anti-war messages around Ohio and neighboring states over the past 10 months. He said the effort is fueled by the notion that President Bush's military response after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was both illegal and immoral.
The ticket in Kent represents the first serious legal challenge to the campaign, Egler said. (He said he was ticketed for littering in Columbus after a sign he placed on a bridge blew over.)
Egler said that when he was stopped in Kent, he asked the police officer how his sign differed from Realtors posting signs on public property saying "This way to the house for sale." He said the officer asked, "You don't know the difference?" but never explained what it might be.
Columbus attorney Bob Fitrakis, Egler's lawyer, said there is a difference: The real estate sign is commercial speech, and Egler's sign is political. Commercial messages do not have anywhere near the legal protections that political speech does, he said. . . .
He said this is the first Ohio case of its kind that he has heard of, because most prosecutions for political signs occur when someone defaces a building with paint or graffiti, but not a free-standing, easily removable sign. Until now.