Civil Liberties

Federal Judge: Mural Protesting Government Policies Isn't Protected Political Speech


A federal judge has upheld St. Louis officials' demands that eminent domain opponent Jim Roos remove the mural pictured here, even though it was put up on on a building Roos owns.

In 2007, the city ordered Roos to take the mural down, saying it violated city sign regulations. City code prohibits any sign larger than 30 square feet in that zoning district; Roos' mural is more than 360 square feet.

Roos sued to preserve his mural, arguing that it was not a sign, but a piece of art offering a protected political statement.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Henry Edward Autrey rejected that argument, saying the mural — which features the addresses of two affiliated websites –is a "classic example" of the definition of a sign.

"The painting is outside and is used to advertise, identify, direct and attract attention to what petitioners believe is eminent domain abuse. It advertises online addresses for more information," Autrey wrote. "It attracts attention to the perceived eminent domain abuse."

Autrey also ruled that the city's sign ordinance is constitutional because it is  "content neutral" — restrictions on signs are based on size and place,  not subject.

The prohibition of Roos' mural, the judge wrote, "relates not to the content of petitioners' message but, rather, to the method by which they wish to convey it."

Autrey found that the city's desire to maintain aesthetic appeal and not disrupt traffic was sufficient enough to allow for restrictions on the placement of signs.