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ST. LOUIS • A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down at least part of St. Louis' sign ordinance and ruled that a St. Louis man had the right to protest eminent domain with a two-story mural on the side of an apartment building near Soulard.

Jim Roos commissioned the two-story painted mural, roughly 360 square feet in size, that proclaims "End Eminent Domain Abuse" inside a red circle with a slash to protest the government's taking of private land, but the city ordered him to remove it in 2007, saying it violated city sign regulations prohibiting signs in that area larger than 30 square feet.

The sign is visible from Interstates 44 and 55.

Roos and two entities that he controls sued the city, arguing that the sign was a political statement protected by the Constitution. Roos is also a spokesperson for the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition (MEDAC).

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey dismissed the case, saying the ordinance was content-neutral. The mural was a "classic example" of a sign, he said, as it was meant to attract attention to Roos' cause and advertised two Web site addresses.

But a three judge panel of the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed Wednesday, saying that the zoning code used the content of a sign to determine if it was, in fact, a "sign" under the code.

A sign the same size as Roos' "would not be subject to regulation if it were a "[n]ational, state, religious, fraternal, professional and civic symbol'" or showed the "time and subject matter of religious services," the ruling says.

The code was also not supported by a compelling government interest, the judges ruled.

The judges sent the case back to Autrey so that he can determine whether the whole section of the zoning code covering signs must be struck down.

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