Ohio couple pressures town into revamping sign law

Tuesday, July 7, 1998

When James and Colleen Hogan posted a sign reading “America protect your unborn” in front of their University Heights, Ohio, home last month, they hoped a visiting President Clinton might see it.

He didn't.

The presidential motorcade didn't drive past the Hogan home, but even if it had, the sign wouldn't have been there. The Hogans said an official from the Cleveland suburb forced them to remove the sign, saying it was too political.

“We just wanted to make a short statement to the president and that would be it,” James Hogan said. “And if something like that isn't covered by the First Amendment, then we're all in trouble.”

Because of their brush with government censorship, the Hogans decided to fight the matter and retained an attorney. They observed the Fourth of July holiday by placing the sign in their yard, a celebration, they said, of America's freedoms.

Responding to a complaint from the Hogans, the city agreed to reconsider its sign ordinance, which in part said that political signs may be posted only 30 days before and 10 days after an election.

On Monday night, the University Heights City Council approved a new city ordinance that allows residents to post signs of “personal expression” on public property if they get a permit. Residents may post such signs on their own property without a permit.

A call to the University Heights City Hall was not returned.

When the Hogans first posted their anti-abortion sign, they had placed it on city property in front of their home. Colleen Hogan then offered to move it back onto her property, but a city building inspector told her she couldn't put it there either.

James Hogan said that while he understands the need for certain restrictions on the size of signs, the inspector's demands that the sign must be removed clearly violated the First Amendment.

He added that he and his wife have found support from both ends of the political spectrum. While conservative-minded friends and observers praised the couple for their stand on abortion, those of a more liberal bent admired the couple's free-speech fight.

“We got a positive message from both sides, but I suppose it could alienate both sides as well,” Hogan said.

He said it was ironic that the city official's effort to halt the Hogans' message effectively made it known to thousands of people. “In that sense, I'm glad that this message has gotten out,” he said. “We would like to see the same rights I have extend to unborn children.”