Town will put up with ‘crap’ — on signs

Free speech or offensive speech? An East Hanover Township, Pa., man objected to a mandatory sewer tie-in fee, the town objected to his word choice. He removed the word ... and sued.
Free speech or offensive speech? An East Hanover Township, Pa., man objected to a mandatory sewer tie-in fee, the town objected to his word choice. He removed the word ... and sued. (Peter Mucha)
Posted: September 29, 2010

David Kliss has the right to write CRAP.

Tuesday, even the town agreed - that he can repaint the word on two signs stuck in his front lawn.

And so he did, after East Hanover Township declared it did not wish to pursue a legal challenge, prior to a scheduled hearing before a federal judge.

In mid-July, upset about the cost of a mandatory sewer tie-in, Kliss posted signs that read "$10,000 TO TAKE A CRAP."

The township notified him that the signs violated five sections of the zoning ordinance, including one banning the display of "Vulgar, Indecent or Obscene Advertising matter."

Kliss moved one sign off a tree on right-of-way property, and cut the "crap" - brushing white paint over the word - on both signs.

The hearing was to ask for a preliminary injunction to allow him to express his constitutionally protected political opinions, according to his Kennett Square attorney, Aaron Martin.

The word is hardly offensive, he argued in a brief that cited a 1993 Seinfeld episode in which Kramer and Newman use the term four times in 15 seconds.

"Kliss' suit was unnecessary," countered township solicitor Scott T. Wyland. Kliss never formally appealed the notification letter, and officials never intended to prosecute for use of the word "crap," he said.

Fines of up to $500 were mentioned in the notification letter.

"The Township respects its residents' First Amendment rights but requires that signs, regardless of their message, be posted lawfully," Wyland said in a written statement.

The township agreed to review its ordinance, with no obligation to make changes, while the case is suspended for 120 days, Wyland said.

"We have the right to go back into court," to make sure the ordinance, revised or not, meets constitutional standards, Martin said.

"This isn't graphic. People are supportive of it," Kliss said of his signs to Fox43 of York, Pa. "I've never had anyone voice a negative comment."

Kliss is still seeking monetary damages for the denial of his free-speech rights, Martin said.

Perhaps enough to pay for a sewer tie-in.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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