Penbrook residents face ultimatum over Steelers sign
The American Civil Liberties Union has sent Dauphin County officials a letter supporting Alissa Myers, owner of the house and sign, and threatening a federal lawsuit.
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Alissa Myers grew up in Centre County, but her family's football loyalties were never divided between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
They are strictly Steelers fans.
Ms. Myers' love for the black and gold has never wavered, not even now, living in Penbrook, Dauphin County.
"It gets in your blood, and you can't get rid of it," she said.
So, when she was told in September by Penbrook officials that she could not hang a 2-foot by 8-foot banner that says, "You're in Steelers Country," on the porch of her home, she was angry.
"The more I thought about it, I thought this was ridiculous," said Ms. Myers, 34. "It's not obstructing anything. It's not vulgar.
"It's not offensive unless you're an Eagles fan."
She and her husband received a letter from borough officials telling them that they needed to either pay a $40 permit fee to hang the sign or face potential fines. A new citation could be issued every day.
The only alternative offered by Penbrook officials was to only hang the banner on game days.
Ms. Myers went to the American Civil Liberties Union, and yesterday, the organization sent a letter to the borough demanding that it provide written assurance that it will rescind all threatened sanctions against her and take no further action.
If the borough doesn't respond to the letter, Valerie Burch, who is representing Ms. Myers, anticipates filing a federal free-speech claim within days.
Yesterday, borough Solicitor Bruce Foreman said his client was interested in what the ACLU has to say about the ordinance.
"We are certainly anxious to hear what suggestions they have," he said. "I'm not sure if the ordinance will be changed, but it certainly could be.
"We take the First Amendment very seriously."
According to Ms. Burch, Penbrook's ordinance values commercial signs over personal signs.
"It's content-based discrimination," Ms. Burch said.
The borough's ordinance allows permanent commercial signs up to 20 square feet, and signs that identify businesses to be up to 100 square feet. But, Ms. Burch said, non-commercial messages -- either political, religious or personal, are limited to 16 square feet, permitted only for brief time periods and allowed only if they "advertise political parties or candidates for election," "nonprofit, charitable and similar events," or qualify as "holiday decorations."
Inflatable Santas are allowed, Ms. Burch said, but not Ms. Myer's banner, which she described as "not very obtuse."
"It doesn't glow. It doesn't blow in the wind," Ms. Burch said.
After she learned of the borough's ordinance, Ms. Myers spent a few hours on a Saturday afternoon walking around her neighborhood with a petition.
Out of the 40 or 50 houses that she stopped at, only one person would not sign it.
"The people who would be exposed to it the most weren't offended by it," said Ms. Myers, who is an engineer for the state.
Despite her opposition to the borough's regulations, Ms. Myers has not put up the sign since the threat of sanctions.
"If I put it up [on game days] and then take it down, I feel like I'm giving in to their silly rules," she said.
It was unclear how much the fine for violating the ordinance would cost, Ms. Burch said.
"You don't have to pay for rights you already have," she said.
For the record, the Harrisburg area is considered Baltimore Ravens territory, with Ravens games taking priority on local television if there is a conflict with the Steelers because it is only about 75 miles away.
First Published December 10, 2009 12:00 am