HOLYOKE — A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a city ordinance banning temporary lawn signs and bumper stickers.
The City Council, in response to a lawsuit, put a moratorium the ordinance last week.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the firm Prince Lobel on behalf of eight residents who said the ordinance infringed on their free speech rights. They wanted to display lawn signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “All Are Welcome,” as well as campaign and holiday signs, according to the ACLU.
Enacted earlier this fall, the ordinance required anyone wishing to place “temporary signs” anywhere in Holyoke, including on private property, to register them with city officials. The restriction would have been in effect from Dec. 1 to March 1 every year. It also applied year-round to temporary signs attached to vehicles and bumper stickers.
The City Council initially passed the order unanimously, but Mayor Alex Morse vetoed it. The council overrode the veto 9-3 on Oct. 16. Residents opposed to the ordinance then filed their lawsuit, and opponents spoke out at a City Council hearing last week.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni issued the preliminary injunction Wednesday. It remains in force until the court case is resolved or the court reaches a new ruling on the merits of the case, according to court documents.
Ruth Bourquin, senior attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, called on city officials to “resolve this matter in a way that preserves fundamental rights of our clients and all residents and visitors to Holyoke.”
Councilors have already filed an order calling for the ordinance to be revised or rescinded. The order is pending before the Ordinance Committee.
Morse, who is named as the lead defendant in the lawsuit due to his role as Holyoke’s chief executive, praised the injunction. He said the ordinance “had never been enforced to begin with.”
“So essentially nothing changes as a result of this decision,” he said. “I had already instructed department heads to not enforce an ordinance that is clearly unconstitutional.”
“We are grateful to the Court for recognizing our First Amendment rights to express ourselves on our private property,” Anne Thalheimer, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement issued by the ACLU on Wednesday.
“We believe that free expression, including expression indicating that Holyoke is a welcoming and diverse City, is very important,” said plaintiff Kaitlin Molloy in an ACLU statement.
Dennis Hohenberger contributed to this report.