Restrictions on political yard signs questioned

There’s apparently a thin line between supporting your favorite candidate and breaking the law when it comes to political yard signs.

Some municipalities have ordinances that restrict the display of political yard signs.

For instance, in South Bend, the signs aren’t supposed to be displayed until October 4th this year. That’s 30-days prior to the 2008 general election.

Yet, you don’t have to look far to find signs that are already on display in the city limits.

In fact, the list of apparent law breakers, even includes a lawmaker: South Bend City Councilman At Large Al Kirsits. “I’ll be honest,” said Kirsits, “I thought it was actually six weeks before the election.”

Kirsits said he was “happy just to be able to get an Obama for President sign,” and that he wanted to “celebrate the Cubs and the first African American running for President of the U.S. “I thought it was just important to put out,” he said.

Dale Devon is running for the eight district seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. He’s very familiar with the rules regarding campaign signs in South Bend. That’s why the majority of his signs are still packed in the back of his car.

“I think other parts of the state they don't have it. You see signs out practically all year long,” said Dale Devon. “I think people get tired of seeing them so I think its a good thing there's a time frame.”

But some counter that time is quickly running out on the legality of the concept of imposing time limits on the display of yard signs.

“At the current time we have lawsuits against Highland, Plainfield, and Lebanon,” Ken Faulk told News Center 16 by phone from his Indiana Civil Liberties Office in Indianapolis.

Faulk said “the case law around the country appears to be uniform in finding that these ordinances are always unconstitutional because they are attempting to prohibit the purest form of political speech.”

The I.C.L.U. says communities simply can’t place limits on political speech, that aren’t placed on other forms of speech.

For instance, Faulk says it’s wrong to place restrictions on the display of political yard signs, that don’t apply to ‘for sale’ signs placed out in front of a house.

While councilman Kirsits responded by taking his Obama sign out of his yard, and putting it into his garden, the I.C.L.U. hopes public officials in general will take things a step further.

“I was hoping that from that, people would get the point that these ordinances are unconstitutional,” Faulk said, “but obviously its not the case.”

Since 2004, the I.C.L.U. has taken five different communities to court over sign restrictions. In the future, the group is hoping for a little less litigation and a little more recognition of the legal status of political sign ordinances.

Locally, South Bend and St. Joseph County have ordinances restricting the time period during which political yard signs can be displayed.

Mishawaka does not have an ordinance, but it does have a policy that it asks political parties to voluntarily follow.

The cities that have been sued by the I.C.L.U. are cities that are actively enforcing their ordinances. That doesn’t appear to be the case recently in South Bend or St. Joseph County.

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