July 25, 2019
DENVER – ACLU of Colorado attorneys sued the Town of Fraser this morning for prohibiting ACLU clients from posting communicative displays on their property that express their views on social and political issues.
Beginning soon after the last presidential election, ACLU clients Melinda McWilliams and Alan Jensen began posting 2-sided displays in Jensen’s front yard in Fraser that communicated their displeasure with President Trump as well as the need for action about global warming. The display soon included eight double-sided signs, which stood for more than a year, without incident, until September 2018. At that time, Jensen received a letter from the Fraser Town Manager demanding he remove the signs or face prosecution for violation of the Fraser sign code. Violations are punishable by a stiff fine and up to a year in jail, with each day counting as a separate offense.
“Fraser’s sign code imposes drastic and unjustifiable limits on residents’ rights to express their views with messages posted on their own property,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Residents are required to obtain $40 permits and are basically restricted to a solitary yard sign that cannot be larger than six square feet.”
“Works of art,” however, are not subject to the sign code’s restrictions. The ACLU clients removed their original signs under threat of prosecution but then submitted four sketches of proposed communicative displays that they believed would qualify as exempt “works of art” under the Fraser sign code (see below).
In a meeting, Town Manager Jeffrey Durbin rejected the sketches, saying that they would “just attract more attention,” and warning the ACLU’s clients that the proposed works would violate Fraser’s ordinance.
“Many people who liked my signs have asked me what happened to them,” said Jensen. “I tell them the Town forced me to remove them under the threat of fines, prosecution or jail.”
“The Town of Fraser has silenced our clients simply because it does not approve of what they have to say or the way in which they choose to say it,” Silverstein added. “The Constitution does not allow this kind of government censorship of expression. The Town’s sign code is a content-based regulation of speech that violates the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit, along with a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of Fraser’s sign code, was filed this morning in federal district court in Denver. In addition to an injunction, the lawsuit seeks nominal damages and a judicial declaration that the challenge ordinance violates the First Amendment.
In addition to Silverstein, the clients are represented by ACLU attorneys Sara Neel and Arielle Herzberg, and ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Christopher Jackson and Alyssa Levy of Sherman and Howard.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.