By Georgette Braun
Posted Sep. 23, 2016 at 4:41 PM
Updated Sep 23, 2016 at 5:32 PM
BELVIDERE — A lawyer who advocates for freedom of speech said today that it was wrong for Boone County to tell a Belvidere couple that their yard sign with the word "HELL" on it violated community standards.
"Who gets to decide what is obscene, immoral or any of those other things?" said Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.
But was the Boone County Building Department wrong to tell Richard and Terri Messling their sign in the 8300 block of Shaw Road violated a zoning ordinance? "I think so," Craven said.
Craven's comments came after the Messlings were notified Thursday that their sign — it says "SLOW THE HELL DOWN, PLEASE" — violated the ordinance.
The ordinance prohibits "signs which contain characters, cartoons, statements, works, or pictures of an obscene, indecent, prurient, or immoral character."
"I know it when I see it," Craven said of obscene material, repeating U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's description of the difficulty of determining what constitutes obscenity, contained in a concurring opinion in a 1964 ruling. "But the government doesn't get to decide what is immoral."
The county told the Messlings the sign would be acceptable if they took out the "ELL" in "HELL," which they did by placing tape over the three letters. If they hadn't fixed it, they could have been fined $500 for each day it was up after Sept. 27, the Messlings said.
"This is right up there with burning the flag," Craven said. "It pisses people off. But it also provokes discussion, which is exactly what the First Amendment is all about."
Richard Messling said he had erected the sign several years ago to get traffic to slow down to the 45 mph speed limit. He was asked to remove it the day after a Register Star story about the sign published online.
Messling said this morning that he had been sitting by his phone taking call after call. "It's ringing all the time. People are 100 percent behind me," said Messling, a 70-year-old retired Chrysler worker. "They say the word 'hell' is in the Bible," so it can't be considered a swear word.
"People are calling me up and wanting me to make them signs."
Michelle Courier, Boone County state's attorney, said in an email today that the Messlings' case "had not yet reached my office to enforce, and at this point, will not reach my office as the property owner has since complied."
Rockford has a zoning ordinance that addresses obscene signs. It says a sign would be in violation if the average person would find it obscene because it appeals to a prurient interest or depicts or describes in a "patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law" and if the work, "taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Bob Walberg, chairman of the Boone County Board, said the ordinance in the Messlings' case had been enacted years before he joined the board, but that its merits could be discussed."I would think if anyone cared to have this looked into, we would certainly try to accommodate them," Walberg said.Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; email@example.com; @GeorgetteBraun
Above is from:http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160923/what-h-boone-county-sign-curb-raises-free-speech-question