Yes, contentious signs are free speech |

Yes, contentious signs are free speech

Your neighbor has a perfectly good right to hold political opinions that will annoy you – and in Nevada County, he probably will.

Your neighbor has an equally good right to voice his opinions on his own property, whether it’s in the form of a bumper sticker announcing his support for Natural Heritage 2020 or a painted sign announcing his opposition to the proposal.

What, the courts have asked, could be more demonstrative of our status as a free people that our right to express our own opinion on our own property?

Charles McKee, the Nevada County counsel, wisely told the county’s code enforcement staff this week that it can’t order the removal of signs about NH 2020 from private property.

McKee wrote: “It is well settled that the posting of signs displaying political message is a traditional method of speaking, and communication by signs and posters is virtually free speech.” Game, set and match.

If that’s true – and we strongly agree with the county counsel that it is – then any attempt to demand the removal of signs with a political message is the worst kind of political censorship. If one cannot express her beliefs with a sign on her own land, then what is to stop those in power from limiting her from speaking political unpopular opinions at a meeting in a public place? Little.

Are the NH 2020 signs ugly? Some say so, but we suspect they’re troubled more by the message than the medium. As the county counsel notes, signs can be controlled for aesthetic reasons only if all signs – commercial as well as political – are treated equally. If aesthetics are really the issue, let’s write an ordinance that talks about all signs, not just political signs.

Are the NH 2020 signs an expression of free speech that deserves the full support of those who believe that truth will emerge from the often rowdy debate over ideas? Absolutely.

The county counsel’s office may catch hell for this opinion. But its courage in defense of freedom should be applauded.

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