Pro-Life yard sign banned in Texas township

A recent Pro-Life yard sign banning has caused an uproar in The Woodlands, Texas, spurring debate in the covenant-controlled community over issues as disparate as free speech rights and home values.

Residents met last Monday evening to discuss possible new rules regulating yard signs after the community’s Development Standards Committee forced Mike Tower to take down a sign that read “Pray to end abortion: 40 Days for Life.” A neighbor had complained to the committee about the sign's message.

Tower told Texas Right to Life that his sign was in compliance with the community’s existing guidelines for yard signs, and that the committee did not have a good reason to demand its removal.

Tower had placed the sign in his front yard during every 40 Days for Life campaign for four years before receiving any complaints.

Deborah Sargeant, a Development Standards Committee member, denied that the sign was removed because of its message. Sargeant told Matt Patrick on 740 KTRH last week that Tower’s sign had an “adverse impact on the neighborhood’s character” and was part of a larger problem she called “sign proliferation.”

Others have simply regarded it as censorship. One member of the committee, Mike Bass, resigned as soon as the committee voted to have the sign removed.

“This can’t be about anything else but the message,” said Tower. “She [Sargeant] complained about sign proliferation, but my own unscientific study found that about 30 percent of yards in The Woodlands have signs. The Woodlands already had sign proliferation.”

Tower was unable to attend the Monday night meeting, but his daughter attended and read to the committee a prepared statement written by her father.

Tower wrote, “Supposedly, the DSC will approve all signs that are of the correct size, aesthetically pleasing and placed in the approved location in the yard. No judgment on content is to be considered as long as it is not offensive. Herein lays the problem. Who is to judge what is offensive? One complaining neighbor? A committee? The Police?”

Interestingly, if Tower did follow the neighborhood’s sign rules properly, then it is the Development Standards Committee itself that is breaking a neighborhood rule. Section 2.12.D of the Community Covenant states that signs must not be “obscene,” but that otherwise, any message is permitted.

While some residents during the meeting agreed that “sign proliferation” is a problem that negatively affects home value, others said that the banning sets a precedent for an even worse problem: a violation of free speech rights.

At the close of the meeting, committee members offered three alternatives for residents to consider: they can keep the current sign regulations, allow only two small signs per yard, or ban signs — excluding “for sale” and election signs — altogether. The committee said it would meet again, but did not say when a final decision would be made.

Tower said that residents’ liberties should be respected.

“Because of my Pro-Life beliefs and freedom of speech, I won’t let this issue die. I will apply for a sign variance again during the next 40 Days for Life campaign,” he said.