Property Owner Should be Allowed to Protest Government WITHOUT the Government’s Permission

John Kramer
John Kramer · February 15, 2011

Arlington, Va.—In America, government should not be allowed to use subjective and discriminatory laws to shut down protests of abusive government action. That is a hallmark of American constitutional rights and yet that is the central issue at stake in a legal case to be argued by the Institute for Justice on Wed., Feb. 16, 2011, in St. Louis before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Giving government bureaucrats the power to decide which speech is acceptable turns the First Amendment on its head,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “Unfortunately, that is exactly what can happen under local government ‘sign code’ regulations restricting or eliminating outdoor communications. And it is happening in St. Louis, where the city government is trying to censor a sign protesting the abuse of eminent domain by—who else?—the city of St. Louis.”

As part of his life’s mission, Jim Roos created modest-but-decent housing for the poor in St. Louis. Even though properties operated by a nonprofit and housing ministry Roos created provided well-maintained accommodations for those who could not afford something more lavish, that was not good enough for government agents and their developer cohorts who took Roos’ buildings through eminent domain for private development projects.

Frustrated at this abuse of his rights, Roos created a protest in the form of a large mural painted on the side of yet another of his buildings being targeted by the city for eminent domain abuse.

The city responded by demanding Roos’ protest against the abuse of government power be taken down. That’s when Roos, represented by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va., which defends free speech and property rights, filed a federal lawsuit against the city. Roos’ case will be heard on Wednesday, Feb. 16, in St. Louis before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Roos’ ordeal shows that when the government has the ability to regulate speech, it also has the power to censor speech it finds inconvenient or disagreeable. It demonstrates how fundamental constitutional rights are linked: Without the First Amendment right to free speech, Jim cannot effectively protest the government’s violation of his property rights.

IJ argues that the First Amendment freedom to protest government actions deserves full protection—regardless of whether the government likes the message.

A federal trial court ruled for the city in March 2010. But tomorrow, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Jim’s appeal.

Bindas said, “The appeals court should reverse the trial court and strike down the city’s discriminatory and unconstitutional sign regulations.”