ACLU of New Jersey Secures Right of Army Officer to Display Political Lawn Sign

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
October 31, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Jersey
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NEWARK, NJ – In response to complaints from an army officer, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that the Borough of Haddon Heights has agreed not to ban the display of political signs on residents’ lawns.

“New Jersey’s towns need to know that overreaching limitations on lawn signs are unconstitutional and the ACLU is ready to defend the public’s rights against such restrictions,” said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Edward Barocas, who previously obtained an injunction against the Borough of Franklin Lakes for restricting the use of political lawn signs. “Especially in the midst of a national election, the right to freedom of speech must be zealously protected.”

The Borough Ordinance 430-135 bans all political signs. However, after being informed that the ACLU of New Jersey was preparing to file a lawsuit seeking an emergency injunction against implementation of the ordinance, the Borough agreed not to enforce the political sign ban.

“While speaking now as an individual citizen rather than as an Army officer, I find it absurd that I’ve been deployed around the world to defend freedom and civil rights, only to have one of the most basic civil rights — the right to free speech — denied to me right here at home,” said Steven Kressel, a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves who has been with Special Operations since 1987. Mr. Kressel’s most recent deployment was in Iraq, from which he returned earlier this year.

On October 27, 2004, Kressel returned to his home in Haddon Heights, from serving that day as an Honor Guard in the funeral of a World War II veteran, to find that the police had come to his home and informed his wife that the sign in support of John Kerry on the Kressel’s front lawn violated a Borough ban on political signs and would have to come down.

When Kressel contacted the Haddon Heights clerk the next day, he learned of the Borough’s ban on political signs throughout the town, including in residential districts. On Friday, October 29, 2004, he contacted the ACLU of New Jersey. The ACLU immediately informed attorneys for Haddon Heights that it would file a lawsuit on Monday morning challenging the ordinance. On Saturday, the ACLU received word from the Borough’s attorney that it would not enforce the ordinance and Kressel could replace his sign.

The ACLU said Haddon Heights’ political sign ban violates the right to free speech both under the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution. The total prohibition on political signs in the Borough does not serve a legitimate purpose and restricts speech, especially by precluding the time-honored right of Americans to express political messages through the placement of signs on their lawns. Additionally, the ordinance impermissibly grants greater protection to commercial speech than to political speech, as other types of signs are permitted in residential districts, including real estate signs, church signs, and signs promoting events.

The ACLU’s Barocas added that although the Borough agreed not to enforce the political sign ban, unless that portion of the ordinance is formally repealed, the ACLU of New Jersey will still file a lawsuit.

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