Judge Stiehl allows large signs in Granite City's Labor Day parade

Steve Gonzalez Aug. 31, 2006, 12:35pm

Daniel and Angela Michael and their 11 children who run Small Victories Ministry from their Highland home will be allowed to carry signs larger than a piece of notebook paper in the upcoming Labor Day Parade in Granite City.

United States District Judge William Stiehl ruled that Granite City cannot enforce Ordinance 7878, which prohibits signs larger than 8 1/2 by 11 inches within a 25-foot distance of any portion of a parade route.

Daniel Michael testified that he has been active in pro-life protests in Granite City for some time and stated that he normally carries signs on public sidewalks, and that he wants the signs, and their messages, to be seen by people participating in the Labor Day parade.

He testified that the signs he carries are usually 2-foot by 3-foot or 4-foot by 6-7-foot.

He told Stiehl he wanted politicians in the Labor Day parade to see the signs he would be carrying because of the message they detailed about his personal, religious belief that abortion is improper and the politicians should do something about this practice.

Daniel also said that if he were to hold a sign in compliance with Ordinance 7878, the politicians, who are in moving vehicles, would not be able to see the signs at all. He also argued that if the Ordinance is in effect at the parade he would not likely protest for fear of punishment.

"It has long been recognized that the protection of the First Amendment extends beyond 'pure speech' and includes the peaceful expression of views by picketing, marching or demonstrating," Stiehl wrote in his 10 page order Aug. 31.

"The First Amendment forbids the government from regulating speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others," he added.

Stiehl continued, "Clearly, a state may not keep law and order by depriving its citizens of their rights and the City of Granite City could not deny a parade permit simply because of the concern about the adverse reaction to the marchers by others.

"Although the City certainly is not powerless to prevent imminent violence or lawlessness resulting from a clash between the marchers and onlookers, any curtailment of First Amendment rights must be based on a present abuse of rights, not merely a fear of future misconduct.

"A narrowly tailored ordinance to accomplish this goal is constitutionally acceptable.

"There is no valid basis for the argument that an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sign is the least restrictive alternative available to meet the goals of free pedestrian traffic, unobstructed views by parade goers and public safety.

"To say that plaintiffs' target audience of politicians, walking or riding in cars as parade participants, would even be able to see a sign that is 8 ½ by 11 inches at a distance of 25 feet from the parade route is absurd.

"The Court is hard pressed to think of a more public forum than a Labor Day parade full of local, state and even national politicians who will travel down a major city street. This is precisely the type of forum that the courts have recognized as a critical venue for the free expression of speech by citizens.

"The loss of an ability to exercise one's right to free speech, even for minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury."

In a press release the Michael family stated, "Judge William Stiehl had the wisdom of King Solomon to grant our request for an injunction against Granite City and their biased sign ordinance. When you can't attack the message you try and silence the messengers."

It also stated, "Gentle Christians will be able to stand in the streets of Granite City and expose the truth of what Granite City protects and allows to happen in their city. If the abortion signs are so horrible, then why are we allowing it to happen in Granite City? Once known for their towering steel mills, now known for the late-term baby killing mill."

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