Unpermitted Protest


Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/paparutzi/461770692

Ten years ago, the city of St. Louis started confiscating properties from Sanctuary in the Ordinary, a low-income housing nonprofit run by Jim Roos. Over the years, 24 properties were seized. In March 2007, Jim Roos decided to fight back by constructing a 360-square-foot mural on the side of one of his buildings (also targeted by the city) protesting the city's eminent domain policy.

Within weeks, the city cited Roos for constructing and displaying a sign without a permit. Roos then applied for a permit and was promptly denied by two separate state agencies. One of them was the very agency that was attempting to seize the building. In March, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Edward Autrey upheld the denial of Roos' permit on the grounds that his mural is a "classic example" of a sign, because it "attracts attention to the perceived eminent domain abuse."

Well, yes. That's the point. "The court's decision gets it precisely backwards," said Michael Bindas, an attorney with the libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice, in a statement. "The Supreme Court has made clear that political speech like Jim's gets the utmost constitutional protection precisely because it is the stuff of public debate."