Reed, et al. v. Long, et al., No. 5:19-cv-00385 (M.D. Ga.) October 29, 2019.
A federal judge has enjoined a county sheriff from placing signs near the homes of several of the plaintiffs in this case, who are rehabilitated, yet registered, sex offenders. The signs announced that no one would be permitted to seek Halloween treats at the address. The sheriff also left leaflets at the plaintiffs’ homes stating that the signposts were there because of their registered status.
At least one plaintiff was threatened with arrest if he removed the sign.
The court concluded that the sheriff’s acts compelled plaintiffs to speak in violation of the First Amendment, which restrains the government from inhibiting or requiring speech. The court rejected the notion that the signs, as government speech, were wholly exempt from review as compelled speech.
The court likewise rejected that notion that the signs were the least restrictive means of addressing the admittedly compelling government interest in child safety. Where less intrusive measures had been effective in the past, and where the county had the capacity to caution without offending plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, defendants had not shown that theirs was the least restrictive means of serving the government’s interest.
In awarding preliminary injunctive relief to three plaintiffs, the court declined to extend the injunction to all members of the class, as the court was concerned about whether some have been classified as more likely to pose a threat to others than the plaintiffs.