Sign Ordinance in Bel-Nor Triggers ACLU Lawsuit


More than one of these spells trouble in the St. Louis County suburb of Bel-Nor. - FLICKR/FRIED ART
  • More than one of these spells trouble in the St. Louis County suburb of Bel-Nor.

A St. Louis County man cited for displaying yard signs that promote Hillary Clinton, Jason Kander and Black Lives Matters is now fighting back in federal court — with the ACLU filing suit on his behalf.

The town of Bel-Nor (population 1,499) limits residents to one sign per address, as well as restricting where signs can be hung or displayed. Enforcing its ordinance is City Prosecutor Stephanie Karr, who gained local notoriety as Ferguson's city attorney/prosecutor before stepping down last May.

Bel-Nor first cited Lawrence Willson — an action the municipality calls "an information" — for his trio of yard signs in September 2017. When his lawyer contacted city leaders and explained that its ordinances prohibiting more than one political sign were clearly unconstitutional, the city said it would be changing its laws.

But while the city did remove references to political signs in its ordinances, it kept the one sign limit on the books. And on December 12, Karr issued Willson another "information," again citing him for having three signs when houses in a residential zoning district may only have one.

Yesterday, the ACLU filed suit, alleging that Bel-Nor's actions violate Willson's right to free speech and due process.

“This overbroad and vague ordinance is a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech,” Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri, said in a press release. “Bel-Nor has chosen to criminalize the speech of the people it serves.”

Bel-Nor's ordinance is worded so broadly, the ACLU says, it criminalizes the display of Christmas lights, rainbow flags or even a Post-It left on the front door.

“I’m disappointed in the city’s actions,” Willson said in the release. “I want to stand up for my rights and my neighbors’ rights to free speech, just like the Constitution says.”

Editor's note: We updated this story after publication to delete one erroneous detail. Clinton and Kander were not running for office in September 2017; their races were, of course, one year earlier. We regret the error.

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