Fortunately for those of us in the practice of First Amendment-related law, expressive conduct can be wildly entertaining. And in Westford, Vermont, a local land use dispute has turned into a full-blown First Amendment fiasco.
Apparently operating on the old premise of “I’m from Vermont, I do what I want,” Ted Pelkey, a resident of Westford, decided to pursue a creative approach to expressing his First Amendment rights by erecting a decorative, 16-foot-tall, 700-pound wooden statue on his property. That statute was, however, of a middle finger. The statue, aimed directly at the local town hall, was erected in response to the Town’s denial of Pelkey’s application to construct a garage on his property.
While the particulars of the story can be found here, it appears that Westford’s sign regulations do not prohibit Pelkey’s statue. The Westford sign code is contained in Section 326 of the Town’s Land Use and Development Regulations. Pelkey’s middle finger meets the height and size limits for signs, and it may even be exempt from regulation as a “residential decorative sign.” Although some might question whether the town should allow the sign, Supreme Court case law going back 50 years tells us that a middle finger–and the message it entails–may not be banned because it offends some community members. So it seems as though Westford will have difficulty requiring Pelkey to remove his “decorative sign.”
Merry (expletive) Christmas, Westford!