In Holyoke, Massachusetts, A Political And Legal Fight Over Yard Signs

Nov 20, 2018

The ACLU of Massachusetts is suing the city of Holyoke over new restrictions on signs.

Holyoke's sign ordinance, which passed in October, requires anyone placing a temporary sign on their property during December, January and February to fill out a form with the city's building department.

“At a time when the federal government seeks to chill free speech, Massachusetts residents should be encouraged to voice their support and opposition for candidates and social issues, not silenced," the ACLU's Carol Rose said in a statement.

City Councilor David Bartley, who sponsored the ordinance, called the criticism "laughable."

"I could care less what their hyperbole is. 'Chill speech?' What does that even mean?" Bartley, a lawyer, said. "It that [registration requirement for signs] chills speech, by filling out a one-page form, the ACLU — I suggest — needs to get a life."

Bartley said the December-to-February registration requirement has nothing to do with the "content" of the signs.

"It's for time, place and manner. It's for aesthetics. It's for public safety," he said.

The ACLU's lawsuit also claimed the ordinance would essentially ban bumper stickers on cars. The ordinance does not specifically mention bumper stickers. It prohibits what it calls "temporary" signs on vehicles, while exempting "permanent" ones. 

The suit was filed on behalf of seven Holyoke residents, several of whom currently have "Black Lives Matter" signs in their yards.

Holyoke's mayor, Alex Morse, said he will not fight the lawsuit.

Morse opposed the ordinance, but the city council overrode his veto.

"I'm certainly not surprised by the lawsuit and I certainly welcome it," Morse told NEPR. "I'll make sure that no city resources are used to defend the ordinance that was passed by the city council. So what I think that means legally, is that it will be much easier to come to settlement."

Morse said he wants the council to rescind the ordinance or amend it.

Regardless, the ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order.

Federal Judge Mark Mastroianni granted an expedited hearing on the request for Wednesday, November 28.