Florida Town’s Portable Sign Ban Shot Down By The 11th Circuit Appeals Court

from the not-how-the-First-Amendment-works dept

In 2010, the town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida passed an ordinance that banned portable signs. According to the town government, this was done to “prevent visual blight and confusion” while simultaneously “protecting the free speech rights” of sign owners/holders.

It failed to achieve the second half of the noble goals, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled [PDF]. (h/t Courthouse News Service)

Not much was made of this ordinance until area man/self-proclaimed “street preacher” Adam Lacroix started displaying his portable signs while, um, street preaching, I guess. Here are some examples of his evangelical outreach.

Homophobic messages and declarations against premarital sex are some examples of what’s being preached on Fort Myers Beach. Restaurant owners said the street preaching is driving customers away. 


“That is a picture of a decapitated baby that was aborted,” said Lacroix, describing one of his signs.

Local business owners starting calling the council members and the council members apparently decided it was time to enforce the law. Lacroix — and Lacroix alone — was cited (twice) for violating the anti-portable sign ordinance. When he asked the city council why he was cited, a town official told him it was because he was the “leader” of the group carrying portable signs.

Lacroix sued. The district court sided with the town, stating that the ordinance was “content neutral,” and therefore violated no rights.

It’s hard to believe the ordinance is content neutral, considering the list of exemptions, which includes real estate signs, garage sale signs, and “temporary” signs, like the political candidate signs that pop up in everyone’s yards during election season.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the content neutrality assertion made by the town. But it notes that simply isn’t enough to save this free speech-violating law.

The Town’s complete ban on all portable signs carried in all locations almost surely violates the First Amendment. Although we agree with the district court that the Ordinance’s prohibition on portable signs is content-neutral, the codification still likely fails intermediate scrutiny because it entirely forecloses a venerable form of speech and does not leave open alternative channels of communication.

In essence, the law could be read to ban protests of any type. That’s highly problematic considering criticism of government entities and actions is the essence of First Amendment protections. To allow the law to remain on the books is to allow the town’s government to silence speech it doesn’t like while still maintaining its “content neutral” pretense.

The rich tradition of political lawn signs perhaps is surpassed only by America’s history of marches and rallies dotted with handheld signs and placards of every imaginable description and covering every conceivable political message. Images of demonstrators holding portable signs immediately spring to mind: the March on Washington, the Women’s March, the 2000 presidential election protests in Dade County and Tallahassee, the Black Lives Matter protests in nearly every city in the country, the Tea Party protests, the Women’s Suffrage March, and many more. All of them involved people carrying portable signs. And all were easy to create and customize. If the Town’s prohibition on carrying all portable signs were to stand, all kinds of expressive speech protected by the First Amendment would be barred.

The Appeals Court says the issue is so clear-cut there’s no need to send it back to the lower court to have it reconsider the issue. Instead, the Eleventh Circuit makes the final call, blocking the city from enforcing this part of its sign ordinance.

We preliminarily enjoin only Section 30-5(18)–the subsection banning portable signs–and nothing more. The Ordinance’s other prohibitions and its permitting scheme have independent meaning that remains effective and cohesive even when Section 30-5(18) is removed.

It takes more than content neutrality to remain constitutional, as this town has just learned. And, while the plaintiff may be abrasive and annoying (especially to local business owners), he’s still on the right side of the First Amendment.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Florida Town’s Portable Sign Ban Shot Down By The 11th Circuit Appeals Court”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

he’s still on the right side of the First Amendment.

This is not actually a hard thing to achieve. Basically every < 1 year-old does this all the time. It’s usually only later in life people “master” being on the wrong side of the First Amendment.

PS: however if you DO have a story about a 1 year old (or younger) being on the wrong side of the First Amendment, please share it. That would probably be a funny thing to read.

Anonymous Coward says:


Says the grotesque, fundie NED troll, Thing 1, who is also a fan of the US-FVEY’s surveillance empire, now stretched into Denmark, which feeds all of Sweden, Norway, and Finland’s data back to the NSA.

Says you with zero evidence, a trick right out of Trolling 101.

Hey, Mega Group called and they want you to give their troll talking points back.

You say to yourself.

DBA Phillip Cross says:


overturn, by constitutional amendment, the right to public display of religion

That will never happen, though it is a delicious fantasy. The founders were well aware of the need of harnessing the power of the fanatical sects of religion for their purposes. Otherwise, who would fight their war?

So, here we are….

But isn’t it important that we allow these crackpots, to counterbalance other crackpots on the left too?

Like, no one wants to see all those tatted up fat slobs and violent lesbians who no man would EVER poke a dick at out protesting for their right to an abortion(that they will never have because no man will ever poke a dick at them), and the photo op’s a re so wonderfully staged to say exactly that?

Those hairy altRight Nazi’s and their beer bellies draped in the American flag for Trump and the right to own an arsenal?

Fatnatics of every stripe should be seen for what they are–children should be taught what they are–and restaurants et al should find creative ways to decorate, so that diners aren’t exposed to such rabble–and this, the exact intersection of public and private–and overweight that “rights” seem to be defined by whose fat voice gets heard the loudest.

Meanwhile, what about adding a clause for “freedom FROM religion?” Notice how the left isn’t screaming too loud for that? It’s because as we see here with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and their baseless accusations, in their worldview, only the “commies” want that.

The US-FVEY’s had no actual atheists, only post-religionists, stuck in, or bullied into ONLY binary discourse who are easily misled about what atheism actually is.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re: Re:

Insert actual NATO expansionist troll blathering baseless defamatory content into conversation HERE, act as if it’s normal


Insert baseless allegations, change meme to “but wutabout the Chi-uh-nees!:?

This one

Make sure to thank Techdirt for its decades of excellent journalism, and educating the public about assholes like NATO-AC above, and give small contribution of distracting and amusing material–such as my recent favorite website Comic Book Historians project–and laugh that laugh–you know the one, about NATO-expansionist, forever-war, AC trolls be so “MbwhahahahaBwahahahaha!!!”

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Comedy lost

My post was a borderline-trolling shot across the bridge. But it was honest.
The problem in this case is not portable signs but the stupidity on them.

Because obscenity is not fixed.
I I walked down the street with a photo sign of a completely consenting pan-sex scat orgy I’d go to jail.
But it’s okay to walk around with a photo of a removed cellular mutation?

As extreme as my example may be, it’s equal to the message in question here.

But on the whole of your reply I have not changed my opinion. You have a right to protest. Just don’t hinder traffic.

Unless you have a permit specifically allowing blockage (and proper detouring is implement) stay out of my way! If you block the sidewalk as I walk I will move you out of my way.
If you block the street expect to be run over.

And if you hold up a sign that says god hates F@6$ I’ll be happy to hold a sign that says I hate god.
What’s your point?

Signs at issue here are purely social trolling. If that is the limit of your usefulness in life… sad!

DBA Phillip Cross says:

I[f] I walked down the street with a photo sign of a completely consenting pan-sex scat orgy I’d go to jail.

Or, photo’s of eAt me, and Meat Puppets, and similar works.

Exactly–these censorship types can never get enough war porn to satiate their appetite–and abortion porn is their ultimate fetish. Dick Cheney hunkered down in his bunker, watching Iraq torture porn the whole time, their erotic thrill, the festering hate they feel watching the pain pf others.

Those types cannot imagine sex to be pleasure, or a person’s right to it–much less our rights to autonomy free of their repulsive religious baggage scattered everywhere in our societies, from metaphors “Oh, God!,” to Xmas displays, and constant news cycles invoking “Hopes-n-Prayers!”–much less a woman’s right to care for herself as she sees fit; women in their folds mere breedsows.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Lol. AC just gotta AC–always creeping up my @ss two days after I move on. Classic trolling by definition.

So–you at least have now outed yourself as a NATO-expansionist, ADL-hasbara aligned, fascist troll, it’s a start.

get in trouble from my teacher for not doing my own work

I get it tho–Troll Grade School teacher’s are tough like that–handing out extra homework for the obvious trolls whose only skillset is derailment.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...