In a move city officials call an affirmation of the First Amendment, the Borough Council of Paxtang, Pa., will allow a couple to keep a religious anti-abortion sign on their front porch after warning them to remove it or face a fine or jail time.
Several weeks ago, Colman and Frances Wessel attached a metal sign to the railing of their front porch. It included a picture of Jesus Christ and said, “This home supports the pro-life cause and is dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Now that the council says the sign can stay, Colman Wessel is relieved the controversy is over.
“Jesus was pro-life, and we are, too,” he said. “Our sign links the sacred heart of Jesus with the pro-life movement. We’re leaving the sign up.”
Last month, Brian Seneca, the borough codes enforcement officer, told the Wessels the sign violated the borough’s sign ordinance because it does not promote a charity. He ordered them to remove it or face a fine up to $500 or imprisonment for up to 60 days.
The ordinance permits “signs for public, religious and charitable institutions and uses such as parks, schools, churches and similar uses.”
The Wessels refused to move their sign, saying they were exercising their freedom of speech and religion. Neighbors and a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed.
The council directed Stanley J. Laskowski, the borough’s lawyer, to review the sign ordinance and update it if necessary.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wessel have opened our eyes,” said Frank Krautheim, council vice president. “We told them they couldn’t have that sign up based on what the ordinance said. They protested. Democracy worked. They got what they wanted. It’s Civics 101, and we won’t pursue it. There’s no hard feelings.”
Paula Knudsen, a staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said she was pleased “that the borough of Paxtang recognized the importance of the Wessels’ right of free speech. It’s even better that (borough officials) are looking at their ordinance and perhaps revising it or getting rid of it if it’s unconstitutional.”