A Window on Senseless Censorship


Tomorrow the Institute for Justice plans to launch a protest of Dallas' ridiculously restrictive rules for commercial signs. Under a 2008 ordinance, businesses may not put signs in the upper two-thirds of windows or glass doors, no more than 15 percent of which may be covered by signs. "The only way to comply with the new ordinance is by putting tiny signs at people's feet," I.J. notes, "which is not an effective way to advertise." I.J.'s Texas chapter filed a federal lawsuit against the ordinance last November. In the protest announced this week, "small business owners are putting 'Free Speech for Small Business: End the Dallas Sign Ban' posters in their windows to show their dissatisfaction with the City of Dallas for violating their First Amendment right to communicate truthful information to their customers." The posters highlight the absurdity of the sign restrictions, which apply only to commercial speech and therefore serve no conceivable safety or even aesthetic purpose:

Businesses are free to put anything except a commercial message in their windows. For example, a business could paint a giant Dallas Cowboys helmet on its window—but not advertise that it offers Cowboys merchandise for sale inside.  Businesses can paint their windows black or put coolers or other items in front of them. In fact, businesses are not even required to have windows at all. What they cannot do is put messages in their windows that tell customers about the products and services offered inside.

One of the plaintiffs in the I.J. suit ran afoul of the ordinance by posting the sign shown in the picture on the right, advertising "30% Off Dry Cleaning."

NEXT: Pot Wars—Battlefield California

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  1. But these are probably corporations that, as many comment here, don’t have free speech rights. If only people have rights, then have the store manager “own” his sign.

    1. Not all liberals think that was an incorrect decision. I don’t.

      Just most of them. 🙁

  2. How can anyone justify such an inane, arbitrary ordinance?

    1. Are you serious?

    2. Because advertising is like opium for the eyes and it forces people to consume things that they really don’t need.

      Next up: Banning paid “end caps” in grocery stores and any item displayed between four and seven feet from the floor.

  3. Senseless Censorship

    Is there another type?

      1. Soulless? Brainless? Bad-ass?

        1. Machiavellian.

          1. Think Citizens United.

  4. The ordinance was enacted to target convenience stores in the southern/black area of town. Supposedly to make the stores safer in the event of a stickup and give the police the ability to see into such stores. How it works in practice I have no clue. I remember seeing photos of the stores in question in the, and they were completely covered in ads for booze and cigarettes, so the supporters probably had the anti smoking crows and the teetotalers on board.

    1. We just loves us some booze and smokes!

    2. Even so, if you’re the owner of that store that gets held up because of all the signs in your windows, self interest behooves you to remove some of the signs.

  5. “businesses may not put signs in the upper two-thirds of windows or glass doors” I have heard that police advise businesses to avoid cluttering the windows because of the risk of robberies. The ordinance may have sprung from of this logic.

    1. Wow, you’d swear that the store owners would have some self-incentive to avoid being robbed. Weird.

      Thank Zeus that the gummint set their priorities right for them.

      1. I worked at 7-11 store in Seattle in the early 90s.

        It was a corporate store and they had a company policy on how much of the window can be covered and the reason was to reduce robberies.

        1. Oh, I don’t doubt that at all. What’s clear is that the ordinance has nothing to do with that.

          1. JW, the ordinances are to control blight and they have been controversial because the city has been targeting poor areas. Though a city official is quoted as saying that “It not only looks bad, but it’s a safety hazard…Police have long expressed concern that they can’t see inside some of the businesses.”

            1. Really? Control blight by making what few businesses there, even less potentially profitable?

              Fucking genius.

  6. Of course, the highlighted section of the article makes this argument BS, because blocking windows with non-commercial messages, or with objects or a solid coat of paint, or not having windows at all, all are legal.

  7. “Lakeside cleaners”

    Are they private assassins that dump weighed down corpses in lakes?

  8. i worked for several years in retail in paramus new jersey, they not only had restrictive blue laws, but insane signage laws like these. IIRC, no sign could cover more than % of a windowpane, nor exceed something like 4 sq. ft.

  9. Ooooooooo, perfect time for a semi-related threadjack.

    Pulled up “Hancock – Unrated” onDemand. They mute-bleeped “bitch” out of the Ludacris song at the begining.

    …right after the kid calls him an asshole. And 5mins later, Hancock is calling a bystander a bitch…

    What am i missing here? It’s a premium channel, they don’t censor naughty words, even on non-unrated features. And the very same word was said many times throughout the movie.

    Now, i know it’s not a big deal. They cut the word bitch out of 2mins of the movie, yeah, whatever. But it’s just so odd, i can’t help obsessing about it.

    1. They probably just used the radio ready version of the song for the soundtrack, and didn’t bother to change it for the movie.

  10. Willie, I can’t believe you watched the movie. It was a big disappointment.

  11. its because crude language, violence, and sex don’t have any affect on children when they get it through hollywood blockbusters, but any exposure through rap music can permanently defile a child’s innocent and moldable mind

  12. Racial politics in Dallas are pretty messed up. The city council pretty much bends to the will of the racial agitators who represent the south side of the city, unless its a really important issue. But day to day stuff like advertising ordinances, its too much trouble to fight with some of the idiots on the council. This is the same council that degenerated into chaos after one member accussed another of being a racist for using the term “black hole” to refer to a project that money disappeared into.

  13. Ya know Jacob, for something this petty and stupid, there’s got to be at least one primary cheerleader for the entire dumb idea – and it’s really unfortunate that this individual (or small cabal of individuals), who has manipulated the entire system to achieve their very narrow ends (probably some whack-a-doodle pet peeve or personal sensibility) hasn’t been fully and publically identified as the driving jackass behind the whole stupid thing. Second in line for chastisement are the newly empowered petty bureaucrats that run around all over the place using their newly expanded governmental authority to fuck with people who do what they likely can’t – actually run a business profitably.

    Instead of lamenting the results of their mischief, they should be publically ridiculed and castigated, until such buffonery is well known that they couldn’t get elected 3d assistant dog catcher responsible for hosing the dogshit out of the catchwagon after long hot summer days.

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