Judge: Cary violated homeowner's freedom of speech
Posted December 7, 2010 6:07 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2010 7:12 p.m. EST
Cary, N.C. — A federal judge has ruled that the Town of Cary’s sign ordinance violates the freedom of speech of a resident who painted a protest on the front of his home in August 2009.
David Bowden spray-painted the phrase “S-----d by the Town of Cary” on his home after, he claims, a road-widening project left his yard devoid of trees and with a steep slope that funnels water into his home.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against Cary, challenging its assessment of fines against Bowden and arguing provisions of the town’s sign ordinance are unconstitutional.
Senior U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan wrote in a ruling, issued Tuesday afternoon, that the town violated Bowden’s freedom of speech when it enforced the ordinance in a way that would have prevented him from expressing a message of political protest.
Last year, Cary town officials said they offered to fix the problems with Bowden’s house but that he refused the offer because the town wouldn’t buy the house.
Bowden said he painted the message on his house so that passers-by would know he had been wronged.
After months of unsuccessful negotiations, the town reiterated its intent to fine Bowden if he did not remove the sign. A year ago, officials suspended the fines pending a court ruling.
Bowden did not have a comment Tuesday evening.
Deanna Boone, a spokeswoman for Cary, called the ruling disappointing, saying it would be reviewed carefully to determine next steps.
“We feel strongly that the sign ordinance reflects the values of our community and gives all speakers ample opportunities to share their thoughts, whatever they may be," Boone said in a statement.