Dave_Brat_official_congressional_photoDear U.S. Rep. Dave Brat:
Some of your constituents have complained to us that you have decided to ban signs from your upcoming “town hall” meetings. We think you may want to reconsider that decision for the following reasons:
  1. It’s never a good idea for a government official to be seen as trying to suppress freedom of expression. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that you took an oath to uphold discourages such action in the strongest possible terms.
  2. If your concern is that a constituent might use a sign as a weapon (either by attaching it to a stick or making it out of some heavy material), you could simply say that signs of a certain size and material would be welcome, while signs on sticks or made out of plywood would not. The same would be true if your goal is to preserve sight lines. You could say that only signs smaller than a certain size (say 12 inches by 24 inches) would be welcome.
  3. If your concern is disruption, you may want to consider that folks who would be content to sit quietly holding up their signs to express their views would be compelled to give voice to those concerns if that’s the only way to be “heard.”
  4. If your concern is littering, we’re sure that a polite request that sign holders take their signs with them when they leave will resolve that problem.
Bottom line, our advice would be to encourage free expression subject only to reasonable rules on time, manner and place. Some of your constituents clearly don’t see a ban on signs as “reasonable,” and neither do we.
Respectfully,
Your Friends at the ACLU of Virginia

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