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Plainfield political sign ordinance challenged

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Plainfield ordinance restricting political lawn signs.

Filed this morning in the Southern District of Indiana, the case of Robert N. Crews v. Town of Plainfield seeks to have the local zoning ordinance declared unconstitutional and to stop town officials from enforcing it. Plaintiff Robert N. Crews sued after receiving a letter from the planning department Sept. 10 notifying him he couldn't have a political sign displayed in his front yard because of the rules.

According to the town's 10-year-old local zoning ordinance, those signs can only be posted 30 days prior to the election and must be taken down within five days following the election.

The sign was less than 16-square feet in area, wasn't placed in a right of way, and didn't hinder safety or traffic visibility, the suit says. While the suit doesn't mention by name the presidential candidate the sign supports, Crews confirmed it was in support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He removed the sign and hasn't put it back on the lawn since then, but feels his own and his wife's First Amendment rights are being violated, and they want resolution as soon as possible prior to the Nov. 4 election.

The ACLU of Indiana plans to ask the court to issue a preliminary injunction stopping Plainfield from enforcing the ordinance, according to legal director Ken Falk.

This is the fourth suit of its kind the civil rights group has filed in the state, and so far three have been resolved in favor of those wanting to put the signs in their front yards.

In past years, Noblesville and Valparaiso backed down from enforcing political sign restrictions and a proposed settlement in a Highland case is being finalized as the town steps down from enforcing its local ordinance, Falk said.

"It's beyond my comprehension why communities continue to think they can infringe on the First Amendment this way," Falk said. "Numerous cases across the country have struck down these ordinances as a violation, and it's clear that we're talking about a fundamental right of political free speech here .... This is the way all of us have the right to speak about and contribute to campaigns in a very public way."

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