ACLU-DE Defends Free Speech in Milton

Milton sign - Womens Rights Human Rights small2

Wilmington, DE (May 16, 2017)—The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware has filed suit against the Town of Milton on behalf of a homeowner who was forced to remove several signs reflecting her views on issues of national importance from her front yard. The suit claims that the Milton Town Code violates the free speech provision of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the Delaware Constitution.

Following the 2016 presidential election, Penny Nickerson, a school teacher who owns a home in Milton, posted four signs on her property with messages such as “Love Trumps Hate” and “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” In mid-February, she was advised by Milton’s code enforcement officer that the signs were in violation of the town code because they were considered to be political.

Ms. Nickerson complied with the code enforcement officer’s request and agreed to temporarily remove the signs. She also asked for a meeting with Town of Milton representatives to explain why the code and its enforcement violated her constitutional right to free speech. The meeting was denied. Nickerson received two letters from the town attorney stating that her signs were not protected by the First Amendment and that she could receive a violation and be fined if she were to repost the signs. So, she turned to the ACLU for assistance.

“Milton cannot restrict the message on a sign because someone made an arbitrary decision that the message is “political,” said Kathleen MacRae, ACLU of Delaware executive director. “The right to speak freely is most important in controversial and turbulent times. Ms. Nickerson has as much right to put a sign on her lawn saying “Love Trumps Hate” as she does to put up a sign that says “House for Sale.”

The Town of Milton code permits many types of messages to be displayed on private property year-round, including church and non-profit messages, professional announcements and advertisements, and real estate and contractor signs. Signs considered by the town to be political are only allowed to be displayed 90 days before and 14 days after a contested election or referendum.

Milton sign - No Ban No Wall_small2The Nickerson suit seeks to have the Milton Town Code §§220-62-64 declared unconstitutional and a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the town from preventing Ms. Nickerson from expressing her views by displaying signs on her property. It also seeks damages.

See attachments for download:
Complaint: Penny J. Nickerson v. Town of Milton
Motion to Expedite Proceedings
Proposed Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Expedited Proceedings
Penny J. Nickerson Verification
Exhibits A-E
Supplemental Information
Photo: Love Trumps Hate
Photo: No Wall No Ban
Photo: Women’s Rights = Human Rights
Photo: Stop the Hate

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