When Will Cramer of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, wanted to sell his truck, he did what many people have done over the years—he placed a for-sale sign in the window while the truck was legally parked in front of his home in its usual spot.

Will doesn’t have a driveway, so, like his neighbors, he parks on the street. But putting a for-sale sign in his car window made him a criminal.

While preparing for a move to the Philippines, where he is teaching English to children for a year, Will tried to sell his 1987 Chevrolet truck.

After receiving no interest from online posts, he turned to the tried and true approach of putting a “For Sale” sign in the window. In October 2023, he received a ticket, which is when he learned that Nazareth criminalizes putting “For Sale” signs in the windows of vehicles parked on the street.

Nazareth’s ordinances allow signs and advertisements on vehicles, but not if those signs advertise the vehicle for sale. Put a for-sale sign in your car’s window while it is parked in the street and face fines and criminal charges.

But towns cannot discriminate by allowing some messages and not others. So, Will has joined with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to defend his right to low-cost commercial speech under the First Amendment. 

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Will Cramer Turns to a Tried-and-True Method to Sell His Used Vehicles 

Will Cramer is a retired schoolteacher, marathon runner, and author of a series of children’s books. Will does writing and running not to win awards, but to inspire himself and others. Will recently retired as a high school biology teacher in New Jersey and embarked on a yearlong journey to the Philippines, where he is teaching English to children. He has also taught English in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, so preparing to leave the country for an extended period is something Will is used to doing. 

In preparation for his trip, Will wanted to sell his two vehicles, a 1987 Chevy Deluxe truck and a 2009 Buick LaCrosse. For Will, it made sense to sell the cars since he would have no need for them for at least the next year. He had previously sold a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu before leaving on one of his prior teaching expeditions. 

Will advertised the 1987 Chevy truck on social media but got no interest. So, after a few weeks, he decided to do something he, and countless other people, had done before: place a for-sale sign in the window of his truck. Will does not have a driveway or garage, so, like many people, he parks his vehicles on the street in front of his home—perfectly legal in Nazareth. He had parked the truck there every day. Will figured the for-sale sign might generate interest where the online ad had failed. He was right. The eventual buyer stopped to look at the truck because he saw the for-sale sign in the window.  

But, on one day in October 2023, Will found a parking ticket on his vehicle. The ticket made clear that although parking on the street was legal, parking the truck on the street with a sign saying “For Sale” in the window was not. Nazareth’s parking code includes an ordinance prohibiting parking a vehicle on the street “for the purposes” of selling it. It does not matter that Will did not park for the purpose of selling his car. He was parked in the same place he parks every day. But Nazareth police enforce the ordinance against speech alone. If officers see a parked car advertising that car for sale, the owner is hit with a criminal charge and a fine. 

A for-sale sign is the only message you can’t have on a car. If officers in Nazareth see a parked car advertising a business or a service, that’s perfectly legal. Commercial speech on vehicles is ubiquitous. From Amazon delivery trucks to plumber’s vans to ads on buses, it is common to see vehicles with commercial messages, slogans, logos, art, and contact information. Bizarrely, under Nazareth law, the owner of Betsy’s Cookies could park her delivery van on a public street for the sole purpose of advertising the cookie business, but would commit a crime by putting a for-sale sign in the same van’s window (even if Betsy didn’t park the van for the purpose of selling the car). 

Not wanting to incur more tickets or fines, Will removed the sign. Luckily, the prospective buyer had already seen the sign and contacted Will a few days later to offer to purchase the truck. But he decided not to advertise his 2009 Buick for sale in the same way, and therefore could not sell it before he left. 

Even though he removed the sign in accordance with the law, it did not sit right with Will that a town could pass an ordinance discriminating against the words “for sale.” Rather than pay the ticket, he went before the local magistrate and argued that the ordinance violated his freedom of speech. The magisterial district judge dismissed Will’s constitutional arguments, ruled for the borough, and found Will guilty. This means that no one in Nazareth can use a “for sale” sign in their vehicle’s window to advertise that vehicle for sale. The borough is essentially criminalizing a traditional, low cost, accessible form of commercial speech. 

The First Amendment Protects Will’s Right to Put a For-Sale Sign in His Car Window 

Advertisements, like Will’s car-for-sale sign, are speech. The First Amendment protects the rights of businesses, entrepreneurs, retired schoolteachers, and anyone else to advertise items for sale. To restrict commercial speech, the government must prove with evidence that such speech causes actual, real-world harm and that the restriction is a tailored response to the harm. 

The leading precedent is a 2007 decision that the Institute for Justice litigated before all active judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There, by a narrow 8-7 margin, the court ruled that the town of Glendale, Ohio, failed to prove that ticketing for-sale signs solved any problem. The facts there were essentially the same as Will’s situation. A lawyer in Glendale legally parked his car on the street in front of his home with a for-sale sign in the window. Other courts across the country have reached similar results in similar cases. Nazareth will be no more successful than any other jurisdiction in trying to justify why a sign with the words “for sale” can be criminalized but signs with any other words (such as “Fly Eagles Fly” or “Buy American”) are ok. 

This case is bigger than Will or the Buick that he wants to sell. Commercial speech has long been a vital form of expression that affects our daily lives. Consider how often you look up and compare prices compared to how often you write letters to the editor or express political opinions. This isn’t to say that other forms of expression are unimportant. Just that commercial speech really matters. And simple, low-cost signs are among the most effective forms of commercial speech. People have surely been using signs to advertise the names of businesses, goods for sale, and prices since the advent of the written word. Nazareth cannot restrict Will’s traditional commercial speech without a serious justification and there’s none present here. 

For Will, this case represents more than just his for-sale sign, it represents his right to freedom of speech and his commitment to vindicating the rights of everyone who uses simple signs. Will believes that all speech deserves the full and equal protection of the First Amendment. By prohibiting him from advertising his cars for sale in this manner, Nazareth is not only affecting Will’s income, but chilling his freedom of speech. 

The Plaintiffs 

The Plaintiff is William Cramer. 

The Defendants 

The Defendant is the Borough of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. 

The Lawsuit 

Will is asking the court to declare that the Borough’s ordinance is unconstitutional to the extent that it prohibits placing a for-sale sign on a legally parked car. Will is also asking the court to issue an order preventing the Borough from enforcing the ordinance against him and others like him in the future. 

The Litigation Team 

Will is represented by Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes and Litigation Fellow Bobbi Taylor. 

About the Institute for Justice  

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is a national, non-profit law firm helping everyday Americans fight against government abuse. IJ has been the preeminent defender of First Amendment rights for individuals and entrepreneurs, and a leading advocate for the right to speak using signs and murals. 

IJ has challenged restrictive ordinances in dozens of cities including a successful challenge to a similar ordinance banning car-for-sale signs in Glendale, Ohio; We have also challenged many other restrictive sign codes protecting the rights of businesses to advertise, including defending a saloon’s mural in Mandan, North Dakota; a gaming store’s inflatable character in Orange Park, Florida; a bagel shop’s sign in Redmond, Washington; and a bakery’s donut mural in Conway, New Hampshire