After a two-year free speech battle, the Oklahoma City council has officially decided to allow banners to fly from city light poles without restricting sponsors' messages. In the summer of 2001, banners for gay pride festivities were removed from the poles, and council members approved a policy that prohibited the display of banners to promote social advocacy or religious messages.
A member of a gay rights group that opposed the old policy applauded Tuesday's decision. "It's a turnaround," said Bill Rogers, past president of the Cimarron Alliance, which sued the city over its previous policy. "I think it's a real victory for the city."
The earlier policy was struck down by U.S. district judge Robin Cauthron, and a settlement with the Cimarron Alliance last fall required the city to allow the organization to display banners for a gay pride parade scheduled for Sunday. In February the city also began allowing other banner displays free of restrictions until a formal policy was in place.
"We have had very few problems," said city manager Jim Couch. "If at some point we have problems in the future, we can come back and repeal it. It's not something we have to have forever. I think there's a realization that even unpopular speech is protected, and unpopular speech is what needs protecting. We can all agree on the 'mom and apple pie' speech."
Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who initially sought the restriction on banners with social advocacy messages, said he agrees the benefits of the banners outweigh concerns about potentially offensive messages. "There may be things we don't like, but a judge has ruled," said Humphreys. "We can always change this again if we want to. So far, it seems to be working well overall."