BEL-NOR • A federal appeals court on Monday said that a Bel-Nor ordinance barring homeowners from having more than one sign in their yard was likely unconstitutional and should not be enforced.
The opinion by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals said a lower court judge was wrong to deny Lawrence Willson's request to block the sign ordinance.
"Due to the special significance of the right to speak from one’s own home, severe restrictions of this right do not afford adequate alternatives,” the ruling says.
Bel-Nor residents risked up to 90 days in jail and a fine for violating the ordinance.
Willson was ticketed in 2017 for having three political signs in his yard, his suit says. Willson erected "Clinton Kaine" and "Jason Kander U.S. Senate" signs in 2016 and a “Black Lives Matter” sign in 2014.
A city official promised to rescind the ordinance after the ACLU contacted them on Willson's behalf, but instead officials modified the ordinance to apply to all signs, not just political ones, the suit says.
The appeals court on Monday said that Bel-Nor failed to show that the one-sign limit “furthers a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to that end” with claims that it was justified by concerns over distracted driving and aesthetics in a small city with "many schools, small housing lots, and narrow streets."
The ACLU had argued that the ordinance also prohibited "welcome home" banners on garages, security company stickers in windows, Christmas lights and balloons, creating a “prohibition of alarming breadth,” the panel said.
The case will now return to the district court.