Appeals Court: No Peace on Broadway, Neon Window Sign Must be Removed


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A federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision that banned neon signs and particularly an illuminated peace sign from a landmark building in Manhattan for zoning regulations. Brigitte Vosse had placed a neon peace sign in the window of her 17th floor apartment of the historic Ansonia building on Broadway. The sign was in a prime location to be seen, right at the turret. According to the New York Post:

The peace symbol is Vosse’s way of saying that “we all need peace in this world, and that everyone can be united,” according to court papers, which defend the illuminated sign as an expression of Vosse’s “opposition to war as a solution to human problems — including my disagreement with American military policies with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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When neighbors complained, clothing designer Brigitte Vosse was ordered to remove the sign and pay a fine under a local law banning illuminated signs more than 40 feet up from the curb. She took her case to federal court under the First Amendment free speech right but lost the case. She appealed.

APPEALS CASE

Now, she lost again in a unanimous unpublished decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The court applied classic “time, place and manner” rules from prior decisions:

A content-neutral restriction on speech is consistent with the First Amendment if it:
1. is narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and
2. leaves open ample alternative channels for communication.

SIGNIFICANT GOVERNMENT INTEREST

The court finds that the ban serves a significant government interest:

  1. Speech can be restricted to maintain aesthetics and preserve “neighborhood character.”
  2. Zoning laws may permit some speech over other speech including, “exemption for flags, banners, or pennants located on community-facility lots has the effect of allowing certain illuminated signs above the 40-feet cut-off.”
  3. Regulations of speech do not need to be the least restrictive possible alternative.

AMPLE ALTERNATIVE CHANNELS

The court finds that there are “ample alternative channels” for speech:

  1. She still has the right to post a “non-illuminated, non-commercial” sign above the 40-foot maximum.
  2. Though a non-illuminated sign would be “harder … to see at night,” she is not guaranteed “the right to communicate … at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired.”

In conclusion, the court finds the free speech claims “without merit.”