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ACLU challenges Milton in free speech lawsuit

Complaint: Forced removal of signs violates First Amendment
The Town of Milton is facing a lawsuit after attorneys with ACLU of Delaware say town code relating to signs is in violation of First Amendment rights to free speech. FILE PHOTO
May 16, 2017

A Milton resident, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, is suing the Town of Milton in Delaware Chancery Court after attorneys say her right to free speech was stifled when she was forced to remove signs from her front yard.

In mid-February, Milton resident Penny Nickerson was told by a Milton code enforcement officer to remove several signs that read “Love Trumps Hate” and “Women's Rights = Human Rights” because they were in violation of town code relating to political signs.

An ACLU press release states Nickerson complied but asked to meet with town officials to explain why she believed town code regarding the signs, which town officials considered political in nature, violated her constitutional right to free speech.

The meeting was denied, the press release states. Instead the town attorney sent Nickerson two letters explaining that the signs, which were posted following the 2016 presidential election, were not protected by the First Amendment and that she would be fined if she reposted them.

“Milton cannot restrict the message on a sign because someone made an arbitrary decision that the message is 'political,'” said ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae in a press release.

“The right to speak freely is most important in controversial and turbulent times,” MacRae said.

Milton Town Solicitor Seth Thompson said, “The town is not in a position to comment on the pending litigation.”

According to Milton Town Code, signs considered political are permitted only 90 days before and 14 days after an election or referendum.

The suit, filed in Chancery Court, seeks to declare a section of Milton code in violation of the First Amendment. The suit also seeks injunctions barring the town from preventing Nickerson from expressing her views or opinions through signs on her property, as well as compensatory damages and attorney fees.

To read the full complaint, click on the attachment titled “Nickerson vs. Milton lawsuit.”

 

Editor's note: This is a developing story.