PUNTA GORDA — A new sign ordinance in Punta Gorda is sparking a constitutional debate.
The new law bans any signs in public places that have indecent language, like swear words, so this week one man decided to break that law in protest.
Richard Massey has now spent the last two Mondays standing outside Punta Gorda City Hall, holding a sign with the F-word on it. He said it’s his constitutional right, but the City ended up fining him $100 for his trouble.
“I’ll be out front with my F-Biden flag all day until the cops show up," said Massey in a video he recorded on June 7th.
F-Biden flags are becoming a trend we’ve covered across Southwest Florida. We previously spoke with several people in Cape Coral choosing to fly them at their houses.
But unlike in Cape Coral, in Punta Gorda it’s now illegal.
“Free speech is not absolute, and we will enforce those types of violations of our sign code," said a City staff member at the City Council meeting on June 2nd.
That's when City Council passed the ordinance, which bans "indecent speech" on signs in public places in order to “protect and enhance the city’s residential character and its economic base.”
“To me, my rights are totally violated," said Massey when we spoke with him over the phone.
He said he believes the ordinance is unconstitutional, which is why even after he got a warning, he came back a second time this past Monday.
“I don’t care if the City passed an ordinance or not, it’s illegal as hell," Massey said in another video he recorded, speaking with a Punta Gorda police officer.
Massey isn’t the only one frustrated by the new rule. On Facebook, people are already planning a protest for Friday evening at City Hall, with more than 30 people signed up to go.
Massey is now facing a $100 fine, but he said, he won't pay it. He’s now looking for a lawyer willing to represent him so he can sue the City.
The City said the only time it fines people is if it receives a complaint first, and it always gives people a warning the first time.