- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2013

Just in case you thought the First Amendment guaranteed Americans the freedom of speech — especially when that speech was tinged political — now comes a case from small-town Belleville, Ill., where a pub owner is being fined thousands of dollars each day that she refuses to take down her window message that is critical of a tax issue.

The sign: “No TIF for US; Tks B’Ville,” The Blaze reported. With it, Dianne Rogge, proprietor of The Pour Haus, hoped to give local governing officials a piece of her mind, and sarcastically say “thanks for nothing.” City officials shot down her request to pay for pub renovations using tax increment financing — TIF.

The sign can be seen from the street and read by passersby, but it’s technically inside her establishment. The Blaze reported.

But no matter, city officials say. It still violates the city’s sign ordinance, prohibiting political signed without a paid permit. Violators are fined $500 a day — and Ms. Rogge’s sign has been in place since June 5, The Blaze reported. She now owes at least $31,000.

Rather than pay, she’s launched a federal lawsuit based on this question: What right have local governments to impede on First Amendment rights? She’s accusing the city of having an unconstitutional sign ordinance, and wants $50,000 in compensation and damages, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.

“You’re allowed to put political statements anywhere you want, and this is my business,” Ms. Rogge said, to a local KMOV broadcast station. “It’s inside, it follows the sign ordinance and, therefore, I’m not breaking any laws. You cannot stomp all over the Constitution — Belleville or anybody else.”

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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