ACLU of Wisconsin Defends Oshkosh Man Fined for Displaying a Political Sign Near a Highway

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
August 25, 2004 12:00 am

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MILWAUKEE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin entered Winnebago County Circuit Court today on behalf of Oshkosh resident Jacob Burns to contest a ticket he received for displaying a political sign on a bridge over a highway.

ACLU Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty described the citation as an affront to basic free speech principles. “”The side of the road is a public forum from which people have a right to express their views, when, as in this case, they don’t impede traffic.””

Burns’ sign said: “”No Bush; No Kerry; Vote Badnarik.”” He displayed it on July 31 on a bridge over Highway 41 in the middle of the day, hoping to let people know about a third-party alternative to the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

“”I don’t have money to buy a TV or radio ad to support my candidate,”” Burns said. “”There’s a fair amount of traffic on Highway 41. I thought a sign would reach some other people who aren’t satisfied with the major parties and maybe they would look Badnarik up on the web.””

George Curtis, of the Curtis Law Office of Oshkosh, is representing Burns as a volunteer cooperating counsel on behalf of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “”Jacob’s sign didn’t block any official highway signs,”” Curtis said. “”He was on a bridge that bicyclists and pedestrians cross all the time. I doubt Jacob would have had any trouble if he had been up there waving an American flag. I think the Sheriff got a little carried away with this one.””

In public statements, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department has tried to justify the charges by citing safety concerns.

ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Larry Dupuis said, “”I’m always amazed when local officials try to stifle free speech in the name of aesthetics or safety. It’s really hard to see how Jacob’s handmade sign is more of a threat to highway safety than the provocative billboards, neon signs for businesses or painted advertisements on barns that line the freeways.””

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