Two men sued a small Wisconsin town on Monday, arguing an ordinance banning them from posting American flags or anti-President Obama signs on overpasses was an attempt to “eviscerate” their First Amendment rights.
Gregory Luce and Nicholas Newman sued Campbell, Wis., and two police officers, saying they want to be able to post pro-life criticism of Mr. Obama or express their patriotism by flying the American flag at a location where people are likely to see it.
Their lawsuit says they used an overpass at least five times between August and October of last year to express their views.
But the town — located on an island between the Mississippi and Black rivers — enacted a new ordinance in October banning those displays, saying they were concerned about public safety.
Chad Hawkins, the town’s clerk and treasurer, said the ordinance was intended to protect people while work continues on a four-year project along Interstate 90. The multilane highway runs under the footbridge in question, and signs or banners could distract motorists or slow traffic, he said.
“I understand what their views on it are, but it was never intended to eliminate their right to speech,” Mr. Hawkins said of the two men, who live in neighboring La Crosse, Wis.
But the men sued, with the help of the Thomas More Law Center, saying they felt targeted because of their anti-Obama views.
“Viewpoint discrimination is one of the most harmful threats to our freedom of speech,” said Erin Mersino, a lawyer at the center. “The answer to contempt of a certain viewpoint is not to silence that viewpoint, but to invite more speech and create a discourse.”
According to their suit, the men attempted in October and November to protest on the overpass and within 100 feet of it but were rebuffed by police.
On Oct. 24, Mr. Luce and other protesters went to the overpass with T-shirts that read “Impeach” on the front and “Obama” on the back. The protest was linked to the Overpasses for America movement, whose goal “is to see the corrupt Barack Hussein Obama held accountable for his many unconstitutional actions,” according to the group’s website.
The plaintiffs said a Campbell police officer told the protesters he would cite them if they failed to leave the overpass. The protesters did as they were told.
Mr. Newman was cited for displaying an American flag on the overpass on Oct. 27, and Mr. Luce could not hold pro-life demonstration on Nov. 3 in the grassy knoll he had selected, because it was within 100 feet of the overpass, according to their lawsuit.