Suit Over Religious Rooftop Message Stands

     (CN) – An Alaska woman who painted a religious message on her roof can sue her town for ordering her to take it down, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled.




     Leta Trask asked permission from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough before painting the message. Town officials told her she would not need a permit because her message was not a “sign” under the definition in the borough code.
     Trask then painted “Do Unto Others… By Your Deeds You’re Known: Love Your Neighbor: You’re Welcome” on her roof with a cross and two hearts.
     However, some of her uphill neighbors complained about the message. The borough asked Trask to take the message down, but she refused.
     The borough took her to court seeking an injunction for her to remove the sign and pay a $200 fine.
     Trask countersued, claiming the borough singled her out for enforcement and violated her constitutional right to free speech.
     The trial court dismissed the borough’s complaint because the message did not qualify as a sign but also dismissed Trask’s civil rights countersuit.
     However, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that Trask had standing to bring a civil-rights complaint.
     “By alleging that the borough infringed on her right to free speech through an enforcement action that was aimed directly at her, she has articulated enough of an injury to confer interest injury standing,” Justice Craig Stowers wrote on the court’s behalf.
     “Especially at the pleading stage, a litigant need not show a complete chilling of First Amendment rights; it is sufficient for a litigant to allege facts showing that an official’s acts would chill or silence a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activities,” he added.
     The dispute between Trask and her neighbors dates back to a 2001 lawsuit. After her uphill neighbors’ home was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt, Trask complained that debris fell onto her property. She then painted her original “Do Unto Others” message, which she refreshed in the current case.

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