Town of Milton Sued Over Alleged First Amendment Violation - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Town of Milton Sued Over Alleged First Amendment Violation

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MILTON, Del. - The ACLU of Delaware is suing the town of Milton for a section of the town code that the ACLU says violates the first amendment.

Penny Nickerson lives on Union Street in Milton, and had a number of political signs in her front yard, saying things such as "Love Trumps Hate" and "Women’s Rights = Human Rights." In February, a town code enforcement officer asked her to take the signs down, saying they violated town code.  Town code currently states that political signs "may be erected no sooner than 90 days prior to any contested election or referendum and shall be removed within 14 days following the election or referendum." Nickerson says that rule restricts her right to free speech. 

"This is a first amendment right. This is a right that belongs to all Americans," she says. "It's not about me, it's not about my political opinion, it's about the constitution."

The town of Milton declined to comment on WBOC's story, citing pending litigation.

Nickerson says she temporarily took the signs down in the hopes that she could resolve the issue with the town after a meeting. But according to the ACLU, Nickerson's request for a meeting was denied, and the town's attorney told her she could face a fine if she did not take down the signs. That's when Nickerson, a retired U.S. History and Government teacher, contacted the ACLU, who filed the suit in Chancery Court. 

"I don't have many lines in the sand but this is one," she says. "This is my country. It's my job to do what I can to protect my country."

While the original signs are down at the moment, Nickerson has a number of new signs in her yard. One lists a quote from Voltaire and Hall, saying: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

According to the ACLU of Delaware, the suit seeks to have that section of town code declared unconstitutional, and have an injunction barring the town from preventing Nickerson from expressing her views by displaying signs on her property. It also seeks damages.

“Milton cannot restrict the message on a sign because someone made an arbitrary decision that the message is “political,” said Kathleen MacRae, ACLU of Delaware executive director. “The right to speak freely is most important in controversial and turbulent times. Ms. Nickerson has as much right to put a sign on her lawn saying “Love Trumps Hate” as she does to put up a sign that says “House for Sale." 

Nickerson says people have stopped by and offered their support. She says she loves living in Milton, but says this part of the town code needs to change.

"Too many people have sacrificed too much for me to just say, 'Oh it's inconvenient, it's too much trouble, I'm gonna move on,'" she says. "That would be to dishonor all those people, as well as to give up my own rights."

A court date has not been set yet. To read the lawsuit, click here. 

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