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Letter: Signs are an expression of free speech

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To the editor,

Hastings, like so many communities across the nation, is determined to implement restrictions on businesses through sign ordinances. Unfortunately, these laws are in conflict with provisions of the constitution — a sign is a form of communication in which a business owner informs potential customers of the product or service offered by the business. When an ordinance restricts the message or even worse includes a provision that the business must pay a fee to have the sign, the owner of the business no longer enjoys freedom of speech.

Freedom of ownership is fundamental to the liberty guaranteed by our constitution. This freedom is abridged when a provision of the sign ordinance limits the size or type of a sign. Mandating that a given sign can only be displayed for a specified period of time should only happen in countries where liberty is not a high priority — police state is the usual term.

Other than the constitutional issues, sign ordinances levy a financial burden on the community. If a business owner determines a sign of a given type is necessary to get his message across, then it follows that the business will be at a competitive disadvantage without the sign and may very well fail or at minimum will be marginally profitable. People who would be employed by a successful business are either not hired or are hired for limited hours. These conditions sap the economic strength and vitality of the community.

Sign ordinances give rise to overzealous enforcement as we see in Hastings. A man’s truck is impounded because it has a sign? The owner of this business displayed a sign for more than ninety days and is subject to a fine. If his business is a year-round business, it follows that his sign should be a year-around sign or at least should be displayed at the discretion of the owner who is putting his hard earned money at risk.

Our nation prospered when government was limited. As government has grown, we have witnessed the malaise of disillusionment and dependence on food stamps and all the other forms of public assistance. We will hear the elitists make their claim that we have to ensure the beauty of our town and we have to keep property values high and for those reasons we need intrusive government. These advocates of bigger government should take a trip to Detroit or other cities in similar state of decline. Perhaps a visit to Pyongyang would open their eyes to conditions that go with big government where the individual is controlled and his every decision is made by faceless central planners!

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