Following Lawsuit Regarding a Pro-Life Sign, Town Revokes Policy Which Banned All Signs From Public Sidewalks

Sep 23, 2004

Grand Chute, Wisconsin – Following a lawsuit arising regarding the display of pro-life signs, the Town of Grand Chute, Wisconsin, has now entered into an amicable settlement agreement with Mark Gabriel regarding the Town’s ordinance that had, prior to the settlement agreement, banned all signs from the public rights-of-way. Mr. Gabriel is represented by Mathew D. Staver of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.

The ordinance previously stated, “Signs shall not be permitted on public rights-of-way except for traffic control, parking and directional signs….” After Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Mark Gabriel, the Town abandoned this policy and entered into a settlement agreement allowing the party to peacefully picket without interference from local authorities.

Since 1999, Mark Gabriel had peacefully demonstrated on the public sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. As part of his peaceful demonstration, he carried signs protesting Planned Parenthood’s activities. The signs did not block the sidewalk nor obstruct traffic. But, in 1999, Mark Gabriel was ticketed for violating the Town of Grand Chute’s ordinance banning all signs from the public rights-of-way. Mr. Gabriel, believing his activities to be constitutional, refused to pay the fine. He was subsequently arrested and his signs were confiscated. Following the suit which ensued, the Town entered into the settlement agreement which dismissed the four pending municipal citations against Mr. Gabriel, revoked the Town’s policy regarding sign picketing, restored the confiscated signs to Mr. Gabriel, and awarded attorney’s fees to Liberty Counsel.

Erik Stanley, Chief Counsel for Liberty Counsel, stated, “Carrying signs as a form of protest is an age-old form of constitutionally protected communication in American life. We are pleased that the Town has recognized picketing with signs as an important and valid form of communication.”

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, further commented, “Personal signs displaying messages play an important role in democracy and the preservation of freedom. I recently visited the Reagan Library where a piece of the former wall that once divided Germany is displayed. The east side of the wall is painted in a bland white color while the west side is painted with a beautiful mural. The two contrasting sides of the Berlin Wall, one side with no expression and the other teaming with expression, is a reminder of why we must jealously guard our right to freedom of speech.”