Four Corners Park in Coldwater, Mich., is home to Memorial Day festivities, bands in the summer, and monuments to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend the American way of life. Now it’s also home to a blanket prohibition on the freedom of speech following a local Tea Party’s request to hang a banner announcing a rally last July.
First Amendment, anyone?
Here’s where the trouble began. The Tea Party group, known as the Common Sense Patriots of Branch County, informed the city that they were going to display a red, white and blue banner that simply stated, “Branch County Tea Party … July 31st … 1:00 pm” to announce its upcoming event. City manager Jeffrey Budd rejected the request “because he considers the TEA Party to be too political and too controversial,” according to a lawsuit the organization filed against the city in U.S. District Court. The Patriots responded that the decision was an unconstitutional restriction on their right to free speech, the city relented, and the group could hang its sign. But it was only a temporary victory.
At Budd’s recommendation, the city council enacted a blanket ban on “banners or other signs of any type or description whatsoever.” And according to the Patriots’ complaint, Budd justified the ban by citing to “administrative headaches” and “comments about the banners affecting the natural beauty of the park” that the signs would provoke. But As the Patriots argue, such a ban would prohibit the display of any kind of sign, banner, or poster — even the American flag. The attorney who filed the suit, Robert Muise, told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that the ban is too broad:
Instead of using a scalpel, they used a sledgehammer,” Muise said. “They didn’t mind when they had people put up banners for some innocuous event, but when the tea party put up their sign, they said, ‘Wait a minute. This is too controversial.’ ”
“There is a problem when you ban everything in a traditional public forum.”
The city says its working on an amendment to its policy.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the city’s ban on signs? Sound off in our comments section below.