Not a Banner for Free Speech

John Kramer
John Kramer · August 7, 2012

Arlington, Va.—On Tuesday, August 7, 2012, after fighting to protect its free speech rights in court for three months, Central Radio was forced to cover up its banner protesting eminent domain abuse. Recently, Federal District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen denied a motion for a “preliminary injunction” to protect the banner from city prosecution during the duration of the court proceedings. This means that even though the judge has yet to make a final decision on whether the First Amendment protects the protest banner, the city is free to fine Central Radio up to $1,000 per day until the judge makes this decision. After the city confirmed that prosecution is imminent, Central Radio felt it had no choice but to cover the banner.

“First the city wants to take our land, now it is forcing us to cover up our sign because it doesn’t like what we have to say,” said Bob Wilson. “Government isn’t supposed to have this much power in this country and we’re going to keep on fighting for our rights, up to the Supreme Court if needed.”

Central Radio has been in Norfolk for 78 years. In 2009 the Norfolk’s redevelopment agency moved to take the company’s land and building through eminent domain for an unspecified use. What’s worse, the city is also now seeking to prevent the owners of Central Radio from effectively speaking out against the abuse of their property rights. The city is demanding Central Radio take down its banner and replace it with one that is less than one-sixth its size, thereby effectively silencing the company’s political protest.

In just the five months that the sign has been up, Central Radio’s protest banner has brought much attention to Central Radio’s eminent domain battle. Clearly visible to thousands of passersby on busy Hampton Boulevard, the banner has caused numerous residents to call, email, or personally approach the company’s owners to express their support. More than 100 Norfolk residents, including several local politicians, attended a rally at Central Radio to support its free speech and property rights on July 5, despite scorching weather.

IJ Attorney Erica Smith said, “Allowing the city to force these entrepreneurs to cover up this political protest adds insult to injury.”

“There is absolutely no harm to the public that could come from Central Radio being allowed to keep this sign up,’” says IJ Senior Attorney Steve Simpson, “The fact that Central Radio is being forced to take down the sign is not only unfair, it is unconstitutional.”