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Archive for Tuesday, June 14, 1994

T AFFECT SIGN ORDINANCE

June 14, 1994

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Freedom of speech was the central issue in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday. Therefore, the justice's action won't affect any upcoming changes to Lawrence's sign law.

Proposed changes to Lawrence's sign ordinance won't be affected by a ruling handed down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

Lawrence city commissioners are considering placing a ban on pole signs within the city limits, and the city attorney is studying whether it's legal to prohibit billboards.

The court's latest ruling, which struck down a St. Louis suburb's prohibition of signs inside people's homes, shouldn't affect either proposal, Wildgen said. Signs inside somebody's home or business -- even facing outside, through a window -- are not regulated in Lawrence.

"We don't regulate the message," Wildgen said. "We regulate the square footage, the placement, the height ... of a sign. We don't regulate the message. The First Amendment is pretty broad."

On Monday the court ruled that Margaret Gilleo, a Ladue, Mo., resident, should have been allowed to display an anti-war sign inside her window during the Persian Gulf War.

In Ladue, a city of tree-lined streets and stately mansions, quality of life is all. The typical family earns just under $100,000 a year, according to the 1990 census. The average house is worth $355,900. There are no shopping centers or fast-food restaurants here. There aren't even any apartments.

Since 1936, the posh suburb has prohibited virtually all signs -- from bake sale notifications to welcome home celebrations -- to limit visual clutter.

That's where the town went wrong, said Richard Levy, who teaches constitutional law at Kansas University. Cities can pass regulations, provided they don't tip the scales toward infringing upon free speech.

Requiring the elimination of pole signs appears constitutional, Levy said, because other signs could be installed in their place.

"It leaves open numerous opportunities for expression," he said.

In the ruling on Monday, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court: ``A special respect for individual liberty in the home has long been part of our culture and our law."

And now signs are allowed in her suburb, Gilleo plans to put one up in her yard.

It will read ``Gilleo for Congress.''

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