Tennessee Woman’s ‘Fuck Em’ Both 2024′ Sign Is Protected Speech, Rules District Court

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First Amendment

The town of Lakeland will have to refund Julie Pereira $688 in fines and fees and pay her $1 in nominal damages for violating her First Amendment rights.

Christian Britschgi |

Fuck Em' Both sign | Lex Villena; Courtlistener.com

(Lex Villena; Courtlistener.com)

A federal judge has ruled a Tennessee woman can’t be fined for saying what we’re all thinking, even if it’s in the form of a yard sign.

This past week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee ruled that the town of Lakeland, Tennessee, violated resident Julie Pereira’s First Amendment rights when it fined her for placing a “Fuck Em’ [sic] Both 2024″ sign in her yard.

According to her First Amendment lawsuit filed last month, Pereira’s sign “simply and cogently” expressed her own opinion that neither major party candidate was an acceptable choice for president. A Lakeland code enforcement official disagreed, slapping Pereira with daily fines of $50 for violating the city’s prohibition on “obscene” signs.

The city only stopped fining Pereira after she covered the u on her sign with tape. By that point, she’d wracked up $688 in fines and other fees because of her sign.

But, unwilling to either pay those fees or dilute the “potency” of her message, Pereira sued the city of Lakeland for violating her First Amendment rights.

“In the interest of protecting not only my rights, but all citizens in the state of Tennessee this case has been taken to the next level because of its constitutional impacts,” she wrote on Facebook, per the New York Post‘s reporting.

In a brief, three-page ruling, the U.S. district court agreed with Pereira. The court barred the city from taking any further enforcement action over her sign and instructed the city to reimburse Pereira for the fines she’d paid, plus $31,000 in attorneys fees, and $1 in nominal damages for having her constitutional rights violated.

Few local governments would try to police someone’s political speech, however profane, if it was expressed on social media or in a newspaper. Yard signs are a different story, however.

Governments are much more willing to regulate owners who are trying to add an expressive element to their own properties, be it a colorful political sign or a fun mural on the side of a local business.

Pereira’s victory is a reminder that signs are still speech and that freedom only works if you have a space to use it.

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