Tennessee man sues TDOT claiming First Amendment violation

    PHOTO-Beacon Center of Tennessee.

    NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Should billboards in Tennessee be protected by the First Amendment?

    A lawsuit filed by a Memphis man against the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) says yes.

    William H. Thomas Jr. launched the legal action after being told a billboard he erected celebrating the holidays was illegal.

    Thomas owns the property where a billboard depicting the American flag as a backdrop to fruits & vegetables associated with Thanksgiving Day were joined with the words "The Glory of the Season."

    According to the lawsuit, Thomas was forced to remove the billboard because it was seen as a violation to the Highway Beautification Act which requires states to monitor and control outdoor advertising or be subject to a loss of federal funds.

    As the Institute for Justice puts it, "Tennessee has sought to tear down Mr. Thomas’s sign, but crucially, it would not attempt to do so had it advertised on-site commercial activity or the sale of his property. Such ads are exempt under the law governing billboards in Tennessee."

    The suit argues removal of signs using non-commercial or advertising language is unconstitutional and violates freedom of speech.

    The Institute for Justice and Mackinac Center Legal Foundation have recently been joined by the Beacon Center of Tennessee in the suit, which has made it to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

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