CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today cautioned officials around the state to halt attempts to illegally regulate political signs posted on residents’ private property. The ACLU sent warning letters to officials in Thorn Township, east of Columbus, and Saint Bernard, a suburb of Cincinnati, following complaints regarding unfair restrictions on political speech.

“Every election, we receive numerous complaints from Ohioans whose free speech rights are unfairly restricted. In an effort to stem the tide of needless litigation, we encourage all cities to reject regulations that infringe on residents’ rights to post political signs freely,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis.

In Thorn Township, a local ordinance limits when political signs may be displayed to 45 days before and 15 days after an election. In Saint Bernard, officials instructed residents that they required a permit in order to post political signs, even though local laws seem to conflict with this assertion. State and federal courts have routinely ruled that time restrictions and permit requirements are unconstitutional limits on free speech.

“Despite the fact that courts around the country have continually ruled these types of restrictions illegal, many Ohio cities still have these laws on the books. Officials must not enforce these unconstitutional constraints on free speech, and repeal these ordinances as soon as possible,” added Davis.

In 2000, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that time restrictions violated free speech protections. The court said that by imposing restrictions on when political signs could be displayed, the city effectively banned political speech during times it was not allowed.

Davis concluded, “Laws that attempt to restrict the time, number or size of political signs are inherently unconstitutional, as well as requirements to obtain a permit or charge a fee for the right to post campaign signs. Rather than focusing on how to restrict residents’ free speech, local officials should embrace citizens’ participation in civic life and explore ways to foster this interest.”

Update: 10.23.09
The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to city officials in Canal Fulton urging them to not enforce their unconstitutional restrictions on political signs. Read the letter here.