Content-based Restrictions Hit a Wall in West Virginia

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia has gone to bat for the constitutional protections of signage. The ACLU recently sent a letter to the City of Charles Town, West Virginia, informing city officials that a message posted to the City’s Facebook page violates the First Amendment.

The Facebook post was in response to a local controversy over the construction of a new factory to be operated by Rockwool North America (Milton, Ontario, CANADA) which will produce insulation products. Local residents had posted yard signs supporting and opposing the new plant.

In the ACLU’s letter, Loree Stark, legal director of the West Virginia office wrote, “The government has not offered any compelling government interest to satisfy the strict scrutiny required to place a limitation on the free speech of the residents of Charles Town. The City must repeal this unconstitutional ordinance and inform residents immediately via Facebook and other applicable public means that the City no longer intends to penalize individuals for displaying Rockwool-related signs.” Stark also indicated that her organization is monitoring the matter closely.

This situation exemplifies the legal issues municipalities may encounter when they seek to impose content-based restrictions on signage. In the absence of any “compelling government interest” which might take precedence over free speech guarantees, sign regulations may rest upon a weak foundation.

** This story has an update:

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas, a 40-year veteran of the on-premise sign industry as a fabricator, installer and journalist, is President/Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI).

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