The Albany Times Union has an intriguing story from another front in the fight for freedom of speech. This front is a front lawn in Queensbury where, back in 2010, the Jasinski family wanted to show their support for Chris Gibson, the Republican candidate for House of Representatives. It seems like you see such signs everywhere in an election season, and while many think them eyesores, they're accepted (however grudgingly) as part of the landscape of a free country. Not so in the Jasinskis' neighborhood. They're members of the Hudson Pointe Homeowners Association, which made a rule before the Jasinskis moved in banning the display of political signs on members' property. The association levied a fine of $5 for each day the Jasinskis kept the Gibson sign on their lawn. It eventually wrote off the fines when the Jasinskis refused to pay, but when the family showed their support for Mitt Romney last year the association started fining them again, even though the Jasinkis placed their signs on what they considered municipal property, where the First Amendment presumably prevails. Again the Jasinskis refused to pay until, with their debt more than $1,500, the association placed a lien on their home.
The association claims that the sign ban is aesthetically motivated by a desire to keep up appearances in the neighborhood. But the Jasinksis note that certain signs (e.g. "For Sale") are allowed while others aren't. They assume that "It's the content they don't like," whether they mean hostility to politics in general or to Republicans in particular. While Republicans are quick to assume bias, the affront to freedom of speech would be the same had the Jasinskis put up Obama signs. A director of the association told the TU reporter that he has to represent the entire neighborhood, including those neighbors who "are not happy" with the Jasinskis' signs. So what if the neighbors overheard the Jasinskis talking politics and took offense? The idea of literally silencing them seems absurd, but so should the idea of what remains essentially a private entity infringing on members' public rights. The associations' rule against political signs is akin to the presumed right of shopping malls to forbid political expression, even (in a notorious local case) to the point of forcing someone to take off a tee-shirt. Political speech is often obnoxious by aesthetic standards, to say the least, but the attitude that simply doesn't want to bothered by the sight of political signs is even more obnoxious in a democratic republic. No private entity, be it a business or an association, should have the power to suppress actual political expression. Politics can be messy and make for clutter on the landscape, but on the other hand, I understand they keep North Korea pretty neat.