Angling for a Fight: Florida Town Fines Bait Shop for Hanging First Amendment Banner on Side of Business

largemouthbasstax1There is an interesting first amendment case in Clearwater, Florida when a local bait and tackle shop is facing a daily fine for hanging a banner showing the first amendment on the side of its business.

The ACLU is representing Herb Quintero, owner of The Complete Angler who was first fined when he put a mural showing fish on the side of the business. The city called it an unauthorized sign and fined him $700. He responded by covering it up with the banner and says that the inspectors are now threatening a $500 a day fine.

The city says that the mural is a sign not art because it shows fish and that they have no choice but to impose the heavy penalties. I am a bit skeptical. It seems that one could have viewed the mural picture in the link below as art, which remains in the eye of the beholder. What seems even more clear is that posting the First Amendment is not a sign for commercial purposes. Indeed, half of the courthouses in the country have such displays.

For the full story, click here.

11 thoughts on “Angling for a Fight: Florida Town Fines Bait Shop for Hanging First Amendment Banner on Side of Business”

  1. Bron98:

    I heard. I heard. Good time had by all. Now get that spaghetti sauce stain off your shirt!

  2. Mespo,

    As I stated, the banner was probably violating ordinances as well. Also, increased fines are fairly normal procedure in FL when the subject doesn’t comply after a set period of time, so the details of the matter are in doubt.

    In any case, the matte did not start with the banner, so I feel that the headline of this post was misleading.


    You display an almost incomparable ability to completely miss the point of what I said. You’re quite astounding in your obtuseness. 😉

    As all the other people so far in this post have pointed out, the real question is whether the mural was a violation of city ordinances.

  3. In Ohio we have a bait shop that warns customers–not for human consumption. We also have a gas station that has a demented bear growling at passerbys. If the owner had put pictures of nightcrawlers etc. (as Buddha stated) and helpfully added, “not for human consumption”, (as we do here) then he’s vi’latin’ the law. He’s not selling fish any more than the gas station is selling demented and insane bears. And Mike says it’s selective enforcement. I smell a vendetta! Someone in the govt. has a beef with this baitman!

  4. Given the linked examples of nine other murals around Clearwater it is apparently selective enforcement. At least 3 of the 9 had store names beside or above their murals. Many times in cases like this the person the rules are selectively enforced against has angered some official in some capacity other than the supposed violation. Although I hate the concept it is apparent that some communities can abrogate an individuals 1st Amendment rights lawfully. Cases where all signage is banned from outside homeowners dwellings for instance. While I don’t particularly like this concept, people being what they are, some are reasonable restriction. Selective enforcement though is another issue entirely and on the facts presented that seems to be what’s happening here.

  5. There is a difference between being a “fish market” and a “bait and tackle shop”, all sushi jokes aside. Reasonable or not, that’s the facts. Had he painted a bucket of worms or a package of Stren fishing line, the city might have a better argument. Had the city not developed a track record of uneven enforcement, they might have a better argument. If the putting the First Amendment on the side of a building is equivalent to “hate speech” ala Phelps, that is not only specious reasoning, but leads you right up to the threshold of oxymoron – the law that guarantees you free speech cannot by definition be curtailed as free speech. The limitations on free speech, political or not, are very narrowly construed for a reason. Too much interference and speech is no longer free, is it? Limitations on when and where are indeed suspect too. “Free Speech Zones” at political rallies? Pure rigged bullshit designed to control the media. Fascist repression at it’s finest and if it wasn’t employed we’d currently have a drastically different political landscape, I guarantee it. But limitations on physical postings such as billboards? I have no problem with that as long as the speech itself isn’t curtailed. There are other factors to consider in those instances, such as public safety (you wouldn’t want a billboard aimed at pilots placed at the end of a runway) and property rights (billboards that interfere with someone’s view when that view was a substantial characteristic of the property).

    The City of Clearwater is going to be made to look like the City of Jerkwater when (and since the case is in Florida, I should say if) this case gets before a competent judge.

  6. I don’t think a ‘reasonable person’ would have a problem saying that a fish depicted what the store sells.

    As to whether the First Amendment is protected, I keep coming back to “time, manner and place” arguments. E.g., Boulder County prohibits billboards, and I think Boulder itself has even stricter restrictions on the size of signs. Advertising isn’t prohibited, just the TMP that would interfere with the public’s ability to enjoy the uninterrupted mountain vistas which is why so many people moved here in the first place.

    Would a business, or anyone, be safe if the content was the First Amendment?

    I would have a hard problem making an exception. First we don’t know how it’s being presented. Basic black on white (or nearly so) text, or is it bright red neon lighting? How do we decide what’s acceptable? Then there’s the fact that “political speech” isn’t just quoting the constitution, it’s also campaign signs and stuff from Fred Phelps (God is killing American troops because we don’t execute homosexuals) and worse. I don’t care if somebody puts up a standard campaign sign in their yard, but putting up one of these signs on a rare billboard that’s positioned next to a school?…

  7. isnt the real issue whether or not the mural, which clearly is just painted pictures of fish, is a sign. There are no written words and no indication that it was a fishing shop – no rods or reels, etc. Strictly based on the mural I would have thought that it was a shop that sold fish for dinner, that is assuming I even knew it to be a place of business.

    In my mind this isnt even a first amendment issue, it is a zoning issue and what constitutes a sign and what doesnt.


    Your couisins and I had a great time last night, the fishing was awsome and it turned out they all voted for McCain saying they would rather have a veteran vs. a Chicago machine guy in the WH, they thought it would be less competition. By the way we all agreed that the next time we go we want you to come along so we can do some shark fishing.

  8. This jonolan guy is a piece of work. Try reading the article first next time …

    “City officials said the mural violated an ordinance that bars businesses from depicting what they sell.”

    If it’s a bait and tackle shop and the mural displays game fish out in the water (as it appears in the photos) then is the mural actually showing what the store sells? One of the images may be a lure and not a fish, but it’s hard to tell.

  9. jonolan:

    “The man is being fined for the mural, not the banner, despite the assertions of your linkbait. I’m guessing – based on the few specifics in the source article – though that the banner also violates city ordinances.”


    The article’s “few specifics” clearly state: “The city recently cited the store again for the mural and the banner. Quintero says he’s been informed that he’ll soon face $500-a-day fines.” This implies higher fines for the banner since his total of accumulated fines is only now $700.00.

    Your difficulty comprehending the English language is truly astounding. Perhaps that is why your conclusions about the incident and the underlying principles involved are so preposterous.

  10. Nice false headline there, Prof. 😉

    The man is being fined for the mural, not the banner, despite the assertions of your linkbait. I’m guessing – based on the few specifics in the source article – though that the banner also violates city ordinances.

    One can and possibly should argue the point of whether the mural is a code violation or not and whether or not a banner is an improper sign – but the 1st Amendment being on said banner is largely immaterial.

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