ACLU Threatens to Sue Eugene, Oregon

Sep 14, 2011 - LegalZoom News Sources
Signs opposing a proposed transit system expansion in Eugene, Oregon, have created controversy.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently threatened to sue the city of Eugene, Oregon, saying its sign laws violate the free speech rights of business owners.

During the past several months, city authorities told owners of businesses along West Sixth Avenue to remove signs protesting a proposed transit system expansion. The city said the signs violated the ordinance governing sign usage, and if not removed, would result in fines of $100 a day. One businessman, Bob Macherione, secured a lawyer who contacted the ACLU.

In a letter to city attorney Glen Klein, the ACLU said it would file a lawsuit unless the city stopped enforcing its sign law within two weeks. The civil rights group argued the city's law is unconstitutional because it prohibits some signs based solely on their content and creates a "prior restraint on speech" by setting a minimum application fee of $169 for those seeking a sign permit.

The ACLU also took issue with the law's enforcement mechanism, which relies on citizen complaints. This means only signs espousing controversial viewpoints will be targeted by police, the group said.

Stuart Ramsing, manager of Eugene's building and permit services division, told the Eugene Register-Guard that the sign code ensures safety and prohibits unsightly signage.

Earlier this year, the ACLU cited free speech rights in opposing a proposed law to ban demonstrations within 300 feet of funeral services. The measure was passed by the Oregon House of Representatives but defeated in the Senate.