GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – A cattle farmer is fighting a Gaines Township zoning ordinance to keep a couple of trailer-sized political signs on his property.
A crowd is expected in 63rd District Court Friday as Vern Verduin takes on Township officials who are trying to force him to remove his signs.
The signs, which are visible from M-6, are posted on two semi-truck trailers parked in Verduin’s pasture.
One reads “Marxism/Socialism = Poverty & hunger.” The other reads “Obama’s ‘mission accomplished.’ 8% unemployment. 16 trillion debt.”
“I felt that things were going in the wrong direction,” he said.
He said as a farmer, he’s concerned especially about hunger and poverty.
But the signs have put him at odds with the leaders of Gaines Township, for whom he has worked as a volunteer firefighter for years.
The Township cited him for violating its sign ordinance, which restricts the size of political signs to 20 square feet.
But under the ordinance, you can have a bigger sign to sell a product than to sell an idea.
“You can have a 32-foot advertising sign. I don’t get that,” said Verduin.
That commercial element is why Verduin’s lawyer thinks his client will win in court. The US Constitution, he says, gives political speech more protection than it does commercial speech.
“This is clearly a violation of his free speech and free exercise right,” said attorney Howard Van Den Heuvel.
Verduin said he could have avoided the fight but has been encouraged by the response he said he has received from people who have driven by and seen his signs- — especially those from countries where free speech is limited.
“One guy gives me a big ol’ bear hug. You know, used broken English. So that helped me continue on,” he said.
Verduin is also critical of another part of the ordinance that limits when political signs can be posted in Gaines Township — only 45 days before and 10 days after an election. Verduin said he thinks the Township is promoting aesthetic beauty with the ordinance, but he says it doesn’t promote political conversation.
“I think for the good of the country, political speech is important,” he said.
No one from the Gaines Township Office would comment Thursday.