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."