Placard with Hitler prohibited on lawn, circuit judge rules

Sign's size, not image, is at issue, official says

October 08, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

That Hitler sign in the front yard can't go back up, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled last week, not because it pictures a murderous fascist, but because it's just too big.

Frederick R. and Jean L. MacFadden live in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Hunting Ridge. In March last year, when they erected a 4-by-3-foot sign picturing Adolph Hitler, their neighbors were displeased.

Complaints led to city citations instructing the MacFaddens to take it down. They refused. They challenged. Last week, they lost again: Upholding a District Court decision issued in January, Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes ruled that the city's sign code is constitutional, if a little awkwardly written.

MacFadden, who taught English at Coppin State College for more than 30 years, said last week that he hasn't given up. "They have violated our religious and political freedom of expression," he said. "We feel that we must persist."

But Alexandra L. Strubing, lawyer for the city Department of Housing and Community Development, said the city regulates signs' size, not their content. Her department issues such citations frequently, she added, whether signs advertise snowballs for sale or, as in one Guilford case, a man looking for a wife - "apply within."

The MacFaddens put up the sign after neighbors complained to the city about the stray dogs they took in last year. To protest what he considered dangerously invasive action by his neighbors and the city, MacFadden posted a photograph of a dozen German schoolboys saluting Hitler and the phrases "Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth" and "Be not deceived. God is not mocked: for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

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