The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation will file suit in federal court today, seeking to declare the municipal sign code of Toledo unconstitutional. The suit will be brought on behalf of James Stamm, of South Toledo, who was prosecuted and fined earlier this year for displaying a yard sign that was critical of Mayor Carleton Finkbeiner.

The Toledo Sign Code, most of which was passed in the early nineteen fifties, contains a welter of regulations governing signs of all types. Like many such codes, it effectively prohibits all signs, subject to certain exceptions. Signs that are allowed to be displayed may be erected by permit, or if they fall into one of a number of categories that are exempt from regulation. Stamm was convicted in June 2001 of displaying a miscellaneous sign affixed to his front porch. As a result of his conviction and fine, he fears erecting another sign in future.

“Political signs are one of the few ways in which most Americans can freely and economically express their discontent with the government,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari. “Codes which limit that expression, or allow officials to punish expression with broad discretion, are simply un-American.”

Though the Toledo Code allows political signs, it defines them as applying only to candidates for public office and ballot issues. A generally political sign like that displayed by James Stamm, which expressed discontent with the mayor, is not expressly permitted by the code, and therefore forbidden. The suit also focuses on other sections of the code, which vaguely prohibit “immoral” signs while allowing a broad range of other signs and messages under circumstances similar to those for which Stamm was fined.