eKC feature
November 30, 2005


Signs of peace on the prairie
by Rhiannon Ross

David Quinly thought he was just being practical. Rather than post two, small signs in his front yard with political messages on one side, he would repeat the messages on both sides.

"I thought I could get drivers coming and going and they wouldn't have to turn around and look to see the messages and cause an accident," he said.

But the City of Prairie Village, KS, did not see it that way. Quinly had violated a city sign ordinance for political signs that says each sign cannot exceed 5-square feet or 2.5 by 2.5-square feet for a total of 10-square feet per yard. The city counted both sides of Quinly's signs, which at nearly 5-square feet each, double-sided, totaled nearly 20-square feet.

The city issued Quinly several written warnings informing him of the size restriction. Quinly said he would pull the second sign temporarily, only to post it again later.

"I had things to say that I couldn't say in one sign. I'd bump it up to two signs for the time being to address military assaults, conditions of torture exposed in Iraq, or holidays. I was more motivated by conditions on the ground than trying to yank the city's chain," he said.

In September of this year, Quinly was ticketed. When he appeared in Prairie Village municipal court in October, he was fined $300.

"I was shocked," he said. "We got a president and an administration who spend millions outing a covert agent, disseminating misinformation and lies, and you've got myself who's using my own resources in my own yard telling the truth. And I get a $300 fine versus an administration telling lies."

All of Quinly's signs, which he said he has posted in his front yard since March 2003, protest the Iraq War. He said he has posted at least 20 different anti-war messages in this time period.

The message touted on his signs when he received the ticket for violating the size restriction read, "Dubya - End the occupation. Stop murdering the poor in Iraq and help the poor in New Orleans."

On the advice of an attorney friend, Quinly decided to appeal the municipal court's decision in district court. He took his case to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri for review. The ACLU agreed to take Quinly's case, citing that the city ordinance violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

David Quinly with his "offending" signs.
(photo by Rhiannon Ross)

"We feel like the ordinance is too restrictive and violates his constitutional right of freedom of speech to express his political views. And the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts support this," John Simpson, one of two ACLU attorneys representing Quinly on appeal, said. Doug Bonney is the other attorney.

Not only does the city ordinance limit the square footage of political signs displayed in residential yards, Simpson said, it also does not allow the posting of political signs over 60 days.

"It doesn't let him make his political statement in a measurable way," he said. "With political speech that's a violation of the First Amendment. It limits a person's ability on how long they can display and also size and effectively the number they can display."

A St. Louis woman who posted a sign in her window promoting peace during the Gulf War, Simpson said, took her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (City of Ladue v. Gilleo, U.S. 1994). The city was concerned with maintaining neighborhood aesthetics. The court ruled the woman had the right to free speech in her home.

"The U.S. Supreme Court indicated if someone wants to display political signs, the state has to have compelling reasons to not let them and then they have to give reasonable ways to let them display signs," Simpson said.

The U.S. Supreme Court case does, however, allow the government to regulate the physical characteristics of political signs.

"You can regulate but you can't regulate to such an extent that you can't get your message out," Simpson said. "You can in some cases regulate time or place but you still have to leave the alternative means to get your message out."

Ladue v. Gilleo, Simpson said, "is the most significant sign case out there."

"It didn't answer all questions. It answered this particular sign in this particular case, a sign in a window. But it set up guidelines that can be used in deciding other cases." It is a case that especially is applicable to Quinly's case, Simpson said.

"We're saying that one sign, front and back is not two signs. Don't limit the number of signs. Size is not key. How many signs can he put up? We also want the court to rule, make clear, that duration of signs is a violation."

The ACLU also would defend someone wishing to post political yard signs in support of the war or current administration Simpson said. He cited a recent ACLU case in Ohio where a resident wished to post a yard sign in support of George Bush.

While content is not at issue in his court case, Quinly said he does believe the anti-war messages written on his signs are causing a ruckus in his neighborhood.

"I'm wondering if the city is receiving a lot of complaints? I can't imagine I'm that big of a thorn. I'm not defacing the city. Maybe they're getting some complaints about the increased traffic," Quinly said.

Assistant City Administrator of Prairie Village Doug Luther confirmed that the city has received complaints regarding Quinly.

"Complaints have been received (about Quinly) on several issues over the past year regarding property maintenance code violations and signs posted," he said.

Luther said Quinly has been notified several times since 2003 that he was in violation of these city ordinances.

Quinly's citation regarding the size of his political signs, however, may be a first for the city, Luther said. "I'm not aware of any cases regarding this particular code section," he said.

Quinly said his political messages have not been well received by some in the past. Since 2003, more than one of his political signs have been stolen, defaced or destroyed, he said.

The first sign he posted in his front yard was a cardboard sign his college-aged daughter brought home that read, "Peace is patriotic. No war."

This sign, said Quinly, was stolen after two or three days.

Quinly created a new sign made of plywood to replace it that simply read, "Ashamed." He called this "a more substantial, less vulnerable sign," which "was our answer to being denied our right of free speech."

This sign was spray-painted by a vandal during the night.

But the most blatant act of vandalism occurred in April 2003 when a middle-aged Caucasian jogger, his Golden Retriever by his side, kicked Quinly's anti-war signs, breaking them "into many pieces," according to the Prairie Village Police report. The dog also allegedly urinated on the signs, which read, "Patriotism for dummies" and "War."

Quinly said he observed the man kicking his signs through an upstairs window. He ran outside and chased after the man and dog, dialing 911 on his cell phone during the pursuit.

Police apprehended a Fairway resident who initially denied any wrongdoing, according to the police report. The man was charged with criminal damage to property.

Quinly requested in his Victim Impact Statement that the man reimburse him for the cost of the two signs, estimated by a sign company at $700. Quinly also wrote in his statement that he would forgive the amount of damages on one condition.

"I would accept (the defendant) putting this $700 in escrow with the court to be returned to him after 60 days of displaying and maintaining signs in his yard that are copies of the ones he destroyed in my yard. This would give him an option to maybe save some money and an opportunity to appreciate the value of other people's property and opinions."

The defendant refused and after further negotiation, paid $500 to Quinly to cover the cost of damages to the two signs.

Quinly said he plans to continue posting political signs in his yard to protest the war in Iraq as long as the war continues. And he said he finds it ironic that the reason the Bush Administration now gives the country for going to war with Iraq is that "soldiers are fighting for freedom."

"What kind of freedom is it when I get a $300 fine for putting a sign out in my yard against the war? If I lived in Iraq, I could put a sign out criticizing Bush and get no fine," he said.

Quinly's court date is scheduled Jan. 3 in Johnson County District Court 8.

Rhiannon Ross is an associate editor for eKC online. She can be reached at rhiannonrosskc@yahoo.com.



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