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Judge suspends sign ordinance in Granite City

Judge suspends sign ordinance in Granite City
By Adam Jadhav

EAST ST. LOUIS Granite City abortion protesters won a victory in federal court Thursday when a federal judge froze an ordinance that would have restricted protesters' signs near parades to the size of notebook paper.

With the ordinance temporarily suspended, the protesters are expected to attend Monday's annual Labor Day parade in Granite City in full force.

Daniel and Angela Michael of Highland, who run an abortion protest group, had sued, saying the ordinance infringed on their First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Court Judge William D. Stiehl granted a preliminary injunction against the ordinance and said the Michaels were likely to succeed in their claims.

The Michaels have made a habit of showing up at parades and outside the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City with large signs showing aborted fetuses. After an altercation last year between protesters and parade-goers, the City Council passed the ordinance, which limited signs within 25 feet of the parade to 8 1/2 by 11 inches.

"What the city of Granite City was trying to do is silence our message," said Daniel Michael, who runs the group "Small Victories" with his wife Angela and their children. "It's not about the signs, how big they are or how little they are. It's about abortion."

City officials and police had argued that the restrictions were not related to content but only intended to keep the peace. Courts have historically upheld the government's right to create restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech if there's a strong public interest.

Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said he and other officials have received numerous complaints about the Michaels and other abortion protesters. Hagnauer and police have said they fear that physical violence will result one day.

"We thought that this law was a way to protect the children and just the people who have really no reason to see these grotesque pictures," said Maj. Jeff Connor. "We just want to be able to keep the peace."

The Michaels say they will continue to fight in federal court to have the ordinance permanently struck down. Hagnauer said city attorneys would review the judge's ruling and proceed.

Judge Stiehl had encouraged the two parties to reach an amicable agreement. The Michaels had previously offered to contain themselves to a cordoned-off section along the parade route.

But city officials said they weren't interested.

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