LEWISTON, Maine — Chalk one up for free speech. Especially on your own property.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine on Thursday said three towns, including Lewiston, have agreed not to enforce local ordinances that appear to be in conflict with state law and the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Tim Lajoie, a Republican candidate for Maine House District 73, said earlier this week he had challenged the city on an ordinance that said campaign lawn signs could not be put out, even on private property, prior to six weeks before the election.
Lewiston, Farmington and Alfred have agreed to hold off on enforcing ordinances that place time limits on political signs on private property, and that’s a positive development, Lajoie said.
“The only reaction I have was, it was never my intention to sue or threaten the city,” Lajoie said. “All I wanted to do was give the city information. I don’t believe there was any malice on the part of the city and have every confidence the city is going to fix it.”
Alysia Melnick, a lawyer with the ACLU of Maine, said Thursday her organization is pleased that the municipalities in question realize their ordinance is unconstitutional and won’t try to enforce it, but they do want those towns to revise their ordinances.
“These ordinances single out the restriction of political speech, which is unconstitutional,” Melnick said. “Local governments can’t legislatively silence political speech by treating political messages different from other types of signs.”
She said the ordinances were particularly troubling for the ACLU because they not only limit free political speech, they also infringe upon the rights of property owners.
“This issue gets at the intersection of private property and protected speech,” Melnick said. “Yard signs are highly protected methods of communication.”
The ACLU opposes government ordinances limiting the duration, time, size or number of political yard signs unless they are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest and, without exception, oppose any specialized enforcement mechanism for signs carrying a political message, according to a news release issued Thursday.
“Political speech is at the core of the First Amendment,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “In Maine communities, political lawn signs play a crucial role in political campaigns, so we want to make sure it’s clear that people have the right to display political signs.”
Lajoie, who is running against Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said he was satisfied.
That the city has decided not to enforce its ordinance regarding signs on private property is good enough, he said.
“That’s all I can ask of them,” he said. “It’s the right decision to make. They are doing the right thing, and as far as I’m concerned the matter is closed.”
City officials have said they will continue to enforce other parts of the ordinance, which prohibit political advertising in certain public rights-of-way and on public property including schools, parks and cemeteries.
To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.