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Editorial: Damaging signs hurts free speech

Saturday, June 7, 2014
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People generally support the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech — until someone says something they disagree with.

Then ... not so much.

A free speech battle is brewing in the town of Ballston, where residents are engaged in a passionate debate over the construction of a new 137,000-square-foot Wal-Mart on Route 50 just outside the village of Ballston Spa.

Over the weekend, about 20 to 25 roadside signs urging support for the project were cut with a knife. The signs were purchased by the project developer and distributed to supporters.

Signs calling for the town to reject the project, on the other hand, were untouched.

There are a number of reasons the sign-slashing should stop.

The first is that pesky First Amendment. We enjoy the right to express our opinions, even if they differ from someone else's.

If someone wants to put up a sign supporting or opposing the Wal-Mart, people should respect that, just as others should respect you for doing the same.

Here's another reason not to do it. Destroying signs makes everyone look bad. Sure, it looks like opponents in this case did the dirty work, since their signs were unscathed. On the other hand, what better way to make the opponents look like crazies than to slash your own signs and let blame fall to the other side?

Another thing to consider when deciding whether to take your box-cutter on your daily walk: Roadside signs are of questionable value.

People aren't going to make up their minds on a new Wal-Mart based on how many signs they see by the road.

They're going to base it on how they feel about having a big-box store in their town.

Public officials, who will have the final say on whether a store is built, should be swayed by whether the store is what's best for the community, not by counting the signs they see.

The bottom line is, there's no good reason for anyone to mess with the signs. People should just leave them alone. It doesn't come down to whether you support the Wal-Mart. It comes down to whether you support free speech.

That's something both sides should be able to agree upon.

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June 7, 2014
6:20 a.m.
+0 votes
kopacham says...

If anything, I would hope the town has a sign ordinance and gets a fee for every sign left up or at least a deposit to ensure the signs get taken down in a timely manner. Nothing worse in a towns image than ratty old signs and stickers all over the place. Kind of a freedom of speech legal graffiti.


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