Thursday, September 6, 2012
LED Signs and Free Speech
I read an article last week (read here) about a church in Virginia who was cited by the county government for changing their LED sign more than twice in 24 hours. The church was apparently unaware of this particular restriction and tried to work with the county on a compromise. Unfortunately they couldn’t reach an agreement so the church is now suing the county saying that the law restricts their free speech and free exercise of religion.
I agree with the church, and not just because I work in the LED sign industry. I believe super restrictive sign codes are wrong in general. Signs are usually the first communication that organizations have with the local community. LED signs have taken this communication to the next level, allowing clear and specific messages to be given. This country was built on free speech, free exercise of religion, entrepreneurship, and hard work. I believe overly restricting the ability of organizations to communicate goes against these principles. That being said, I understand the need to make sure we don’t have giant digital billboards shining into a residential area.
Reasonable restrictions and guidelines are necessary, but limiting message changes to only two per 24 hours is going too far and might be overreaction by the county, worried about turning the area into a mini Las Vegas. This “Las Vegas” fear has its roots in the fact that LED signs are still relatively new to the commercial market. In the beginning, only organizations with deep pockets (like casinos) could afford the full color high quality signs. Additionally, these new LED signs were purchased not just to communicate, but to be an attraction on their own, seeing who could make the biggest and fanciest sign on the strip.
LED signs are much more affordable, and are now used regularly for churches, businesses, schools and other smaller organizations. Unfortunately, the old idea of an LED sign’s purpose continues to affect sign codes across the country today. This story has received more coverage than normal, but it is by no means an uncommon situation. I have personally been involved with a number of these type of situations across the country and they can be extremely frustrating for the organization involved, who in most cases just wants to replace old technology and better communicate to the public.
I am glad to see this church fighting for their free speech rights, and that this story has received national press. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. The county has already backed off from there original stance (see update here), and many local officials have agreed with the churches position. Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) is quoted in the updated article saying “This is what happens when you’re not careful with regulation.” Hopefully this inspires other organizations facing similar issues to stand their ground and work with the local government for more reasonable sign codes.
LED signs are the future, they will be around for a long time. Rejecting them in the sign code is like rejecting the car because it goes faster than a horse and buggy. Obviously, this is the wrong way to approach the situation. Speed limits are put in place, better roads are built, stoplights are utilized and fair traffic laws are developed. This same level headed approach should be taken with LED signs. Fair regulations will promote a higher quality product and safer installations that benefit the public, organizations, and the industry in general.
- Scott Hofheins.
I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit www.vantageled.com for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!
**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.