Farmer wins political signs case

Farmer wins political signs case

Wood TV – by Henry Erb

GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – A local farmer and his supporters celebrated in court Thursday after a judge ruled a Gaines Township sign ordinance unconstitutional.

The Township had cited Vern Verduin for political signs he posted on the side of two semi-trucks in his pasture along M-6. One sign reads “Marxism/Socialism = Poverty & hunger.” The other reads “Obama’s ‘mission accomplished.’ 8% unemployment. 16 trillion debt.”

The Township zoning ordinance limits political signs to 20 square feet and Verduin’s are much larger. The Township does allow significantly larger commercial signs.

Verduin considered the Township’s position censorship and a violation of his right to free speech.

Thursday, Judge Steven Servaas of Kent County’s 63rd District Court said Verduin may keep his signs.

“In this application in this case that it is unconstitutional because of the distinction between political and commercial signs,” Servaas said.

Servaas said the law has to treat commercial and political speech the same.

The courtroom was full of people who agreed and who broke into applause following the judge’s ruling.

“It’s good for the township. It’s good for the nation,” said Verduin.

Verduin’s case drew help from attorneys for the conservative Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The court really looked at and decided this was a political sign and that there cannot be this distinction between political and commercial signs. They have to be treated equally and if they can’t, you can’t have stricter limits on political speech than commercial speech,” said Miriam Auckerman of the ACLU.

Verduin said he is glad the issue is resolved and that he doesn’t want to stick his victory in the Township’s face.

“I don’t know that I’m going to keep them up, even,” he said. “Maybe do something different. I don’t know. We made our point.”

The Township’s attorney said it could revise its ordinance or appeal and that the ruling could affect sign regulations in many other Michigan communities.

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