HOLYOKE – The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Holyoke, charging the city’s recently enacted ordinance restricting lawn signs is a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, names the city, and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and Building Inspector Damien Cote by virtue of their positions with the city.
It was filed by the ACLU and the Boston law firm of Prince Lobel on behalf of seven city residents, Kaitlin Molloy, Sarah Oelker, Anne Thalheimer, Danielle Ryan, Gabriel Quaglia, Lisa Ahlstrom, and Dale Melcher.
At issue is the city’s recently approved temporary sign ordinance enacted this fall.
The ordinance bans ‘temporary signs’ from being placed anywhere in the city, but only during a 3-month period from Dec. 1 to March 1.
It defines a temporary sign as any fixed signs, portable signs, banners, inflatable balloon signs and sandwich board. They may not be placed on any property or vehicle. The only signs permitted during those months are those that have been registered in advance with the Building Department.
The ACLU charges that the city in its zest to pass the ordinance trampled on the right of residents to express political views.
Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU for Massachusetts, said: “There is no right more fundamental to democracy than the right of an individual to express their personal political views.”People should be encouraged to voice their opinions at the local, state and federal levels, not silenced, she said.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs commonly use lawn signs, expressing such ideas as “Peace on Earth,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “All are Welcome here.”
Thalheimer is a past opponent of Councilor David Bartley. The suit notes that Quaglia has recently placed a sign reading “Anne Thalheimer for City Council” in his yard to protest Bartley.
Bartley is a proponent of the sign ordinance.
Naming Morse in the suit contains a tinge of irony because he is publicly opposed to the ordinance that is center of the suit, citing the very same objections to it that the ACLU is now expressing.
The City Council passed the ordinance but Morse on Oct. 11 vetoed it. At the time, Morse said the ordinance as passed by the council places an unreasonable and unnecessary burden on residents and “restricts their speech on their property.”
The council overrode the veto by a 9-3 vote on Oct. 16.