Wednesday, December 06, 2006

About Free Speech

Forbidden sale sign is focus in free speech case


December 6, 2006

CINCINNATI -- The car Chris Pagan wanted to sell is long gone. But he kept the "For Sale" sign in case he might need it as evidence in a three-year federal court battle over his right to use the sign on a public street.

Today, Pagan's case will be debated in an unusual hearing before all 14 judges of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lawyers helping Pagan with his case predict its outcome will gain national influence over freedom of speech issues and could redefine commercial speech rights for 32 million people in the court's four-state territory -- Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

The case stems from Pagan's 2003 attempt to sell his 1970 Mercury Cougar. He put a "For Sale" sign in the car's window and parked the car in front of his home in Glendale, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb.

Glendale police threatened to cite him under an ordinance forbidding such signs on vehicles in public areas. Pagan, who practices law, tried to negotiate, but village officials wouldn't budge.

Pagan removed the sign. Inquiries about the car dried up because nobody knew it was for sale, Pagan said.

"I sold it under market value, because it was the best deal I could get," he said.

Pagan filed a federal lawsuit, launching a freedom of speech crusade against the village's half-century-old sign regulation.

"This is not a trivial thing. Glendale was seeking to throw me into the criminal justice system and subject me to jail time -- and they can't do that when they're violating the First Amendment," said Pagan, who could have been fined up to $250 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The Arlington, Va.-based Institute of Justice said it believes that if the village of Glendale wins the case, then "governments will be able to ban even the most harmless speech just because they feel like it," said Jeff Rowes, an institute lawyer.

"If they can ban totally harmless speech on a whim, what happens when more controversial speech comes along? If we decide that putting someone in jail is the right way to deal with ordinary speech like a 'For Sale' sign, the First Amendment is in grave jeopardy."

Glendale's attorney, Larry Barbiere, did not return telephone requests seeking comment.

Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.

This has to make you wonder. If you can't advertise your car, by putting a sign in it's window, what's next?

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