This week the Skaneateles village board set a public hearing for a local law to remove a 30-day restriction on political signs that people place on their front lawns.
Their given reason is that the existing law could be challenged as a violation of every citizen’s freedom of speech granted by the first amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights. If a person wants to put up a sign signifying their support of a candidate for office or signifying a stance on an issue (hydrofracking comes to mind), they should have the right to express themselves that way, without restrictions.
We commend the village for being forward thinking on this issue, and also safeguarding themselves against a potential lawsuit. The first amendment, and the freedom of the press it grants, is critical for institutions like the local newspapers which support democracy and the free flow of information.
However, though protecting the first amendment is of critical importance, just because you have the right to speech does not mean you should use it. Actions always have consequences. Saying something offensive or unpopular may be within the law, but that does not make it a wise decision. Often times, the best course of action when it comes to expressing opinions on controversial topics is to tread lightly.
In the case of political signs, the village board expressed the hope that residents will use their best discretion and avoid putting up signs too early to avoid “visual clutter” in the village.
Other people may think that the signs are a charming reminder of small-town elections, a sign of fall’s arrival and a way to gauge support for candidates. Regardless of your view, the choice should fall with the residents, not the village.