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West Michigan cattle farmer can keep his signs critical of socialism, President Obama

On Thursday a Kent County district court judge ruled in favor of a farmer with two huge political signs on his property. The signs are critical of socialism and President Obama.

Gaines Township argued what the signs say is not at issue, just the size of them. Under local zoning laws, people can have commercial signs up to 32 square feet, political signs up to 20 square feet.

The township issued Vernon Verduin a citation, since his signs are much larger than 20 square feet. One can see the signs from a nearby freeway.

A township attorney argued that because there is no limit to the number of 20 square foot signs a person can have on their property, but there is a limit to the number of commercial signs allowed, there was actually less restrictions on political speech.

But the judge ruled the zoning ordinance unconstitutional because it treated commercial and political signs differently; it was not “content neutral.” He dismissed the civil infraction issued to the farmer.

The ACLU, which filed a brief in the case this week, and Verduin’s attorney Howard Van Den Heuvel called the ruling a victory for first amendment rights.

“The principal is basically, are egg McMuffins more important than free speech? And the answer is no,” Van Den Heuvel said.

Despite the ruling in his favor, Verduin says he’s not sure he’ll keep the signs up.

“I’m not looking to stick it in the township’s face, really, I mean, they’re my boss partly,” Verduin said. He’s volunteered for the fire department for many years. “I hope there’s no vendetta personally,” he said.

Verduin says he’s gotten calls of support from all over the country.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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