If you want to greet a veteran returning home from an overseas conflict with a sign saying, Welcome Home, Mike, or Welcome Home, Sarah, you may not legally do so in the town of Watertown.
I discovered this during the first week of August when my application for a sign permit with another message was denied. I have now gone before three town bodiesthe Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the full Town Board to make my case.
I was astonished to learn that the 15-page sign ordinance prohibits all messages on the property of businesses and homeowners other than the strict inclusion of business name, purpose and phone number. In other words, if you are a resident of the town, you do not possess the First Amendment right to freedom of expression on your own property. Any expression.
This is not my opinion but the publicly expressed judgment of the chair of the Zoning Board and the members of the Planning Board. My sign permit was denied because it contained a message.
And now in the public record you may read the two town boards explicitly reject the following proposals I made: residents may not erect signs that support the troops, promote research for breast cancer or Alzheimers, advocate against child or animal abuse, or even say Merry Christmas. All such signs are illegal under this ordinance.
The penalty for such violations are fines and/or jail sentences. While I immediately complied with the code enforcer when ordered to take down my sign, I now intend to raise it again.
Let me be clear, however: the town of Watertown is not at war with Christmas or the troops or even the U.S. Constitution. Nor any of the preposterous claims made by those few who seek to fabricate false outrage over such issues.
Iaddressed the Town Board and demanded the town vacate those statutes and rewrite them to enable all residents in the town to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed us by our founders. No one reading this letter should construe that the town is part of any sort of shadowy activity that fuels the tragic trend to mistrust or hate government. I do neither.
Finally, what is mystifying if not outrageous is that an editor at the Watertown Daily Times appears to have squashed this story, even though one of their reporters was present for the town meetings and had conducted an extensive interview with me previously. For some reason, the wholesale denial of First Amendment rights is not a newsworthy story in the eyes of this Times editor. Kudos, however, to the Watertown Daily Times editorial page for printing this letter.
Robert J. Comenole