HARRISBURG - Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Borough of Littlestown ordinance that restricts the right of residents to post political signs on their own property. The ordinance bans political signs except for signs posted thirty days before and three working days after an election.
The ACLU-PA suit was filed on behalf of Littlestown residents Kenneth and Virginia Frock. Today's suit asks the court to declare the Borough's ordinance unconstitutional. The Frocks would like to post a sign urging the federal government to bring our troops home from Iraq. The suit alleges that the Frocks' right to express their political views on their own property cannot be limited to the election season.
Mr. Frock, an Air Force veteran, explained his reasons for the suit.
"It's absurd for the Borough to think they can allow me to put up signs advertising my house painter, but not a sign saying how I feel about the way things are going in this country."
It follows an incident in June of 2007 where the Borough threatened to fine the Frocks $500 per day for posting a sign protesting the Borough's handling of a disputed water bill. The sign read, "We refuse to yield to ‘Gestapo' tactics of Littlestown Borough." At that time, the ACLU warned Borough officials that the ordinance was unconstitutional and asked them to retract their threat of fines. The Borough Council President responded by inviting a lawsuit. The Frocks removed the sign.
The Supreme Court has declared similar laws to be an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and a violation of the First Amendment. In the last 10 years, the ACLU-PA has successfully sued seven communities in the Commonwealth for similar First Amendment violations: Upper St. Clair (Allegheny County-1999), Allegheny Township (Westmoreland County-2001), Harborcreek Township (Erie County-2002), the City of Philadelphia (2004), East Stroudsburg (Monroe County-2004), Baldwin Borough (Allegheny County-2005), and just last month South Park Township (Allegheny County-2008).
"The right of Littlestown residents to criticize their government on their own private property cannot be eliminated for 10 months out of the year," said ACLU Staff Attorney, Valerie Burch.
A copy of the complaint can be found at this link.