Wind Farm Opponents File Suit Challenging Town of Morrison's Sign Ordinance
Posted May 17, 2012
The small town of Morrison, Wisconsin, near Green Bay, has a free speech problem. The town’s sign ordinance prohibits residents from placing signs with political or religious messages on their own property, and town officials have used that ordinance to stifle opposition to potential industrial wind turbine developments in the town.
Today, with legal representation from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, four Morrison residents – James and Barbara Vanden Boogart and Jon and Lori Morehouse – filed a federal lawsuit (Eastern District of Wisconsin case number 12-cv-491) challenging the constitutionality of the sign ordinance and seeking damages from town officials. The lawsuit alleges that town officials – many of whom signed financially lucrative contracts to host wind turbines on their property – have used the sign ordinance to threaten and bully wind turbine opponents, like the Vanden Boogarts and Morehouses, in order to silence their voices.
“It's disheartening that town chairman Todd Christensen and other officials spend so much time and effort preventing town residents from putting up 4-foot signs, while out-of-state developers are trying to put up 400-foot wind turbines,” said Plaintiff Jon Morehouse. “Government exists to protect people’s rights and freedoms, not take them away.”
According to the allegations in the complaint, town officials “suppressed the speech of the Plaintiffs and other Morrison residents with the specific goal of silencing critics – critics of their preferred policies and of themselves.” It accuses the officials of acting “maliciously, wantonly, and oppressively . . . with the specific intent of depriving the Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.”
“Town officials were warned over and over that their ordinance and their actions were unconstitutional. They were given every chance to change their ways,” said Tom Kamenick, associate counsel for WILL. “Chairman Christensen dismissed these concerns out of hand, telling town residents they would have to take the town to court if they didn’t like it.”
“Chairman Christensen has violated his oath of office to uphold the Constitution. It is with great reluctance, and as a last resort, that we take our own town to court after exhausting all other avenues over the past two years,” said Plaintiff Jim Vanden Boogart.
Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL, said that local municipalities cannot disregard residents' constitutional rights. “When informed that their actions were unlawful, the town’s response was, literally, ‘sue us.’ So we did.”
A copy of the complaint is available here.
Want to see more of the signs Morrison officials find so objectionable? View a PDF of them here.