A federal judge has ruled that police in Madison, Wis., did not violate a minister's free speech rights by ordering the removal of antigay banners from highway overpasses. U.S. district judge John Shabaz said Wednesday that police had ordered the banners, which read "Homosexuality Is a Sin," removed from the pedestrian overpasses along the city's Beltline not because of their message but because they caused potential traffic hazards to drivers. The Reverend Ralph Ovadal of Monroe, chairman of Wisconsin Christians United, had sued the Madison police department in May, alleging it violated his free speech rights by ordering him to remove the banners last year. Police ordered Ovadal on September 2 and October 11 to remove the banners from pedestrian overpasses near Verona Road and near Park Street.
Shabaz denied Wednesday a request for a temporary injunction that would have barred Madison police from ordering the removal of the banners. The judge said such a ban would have been overly broad and would have prevented police from acting to ensure public safety. In order to grant the injunction, Shabaz said he would have had to find that the lawsuit had a reasonable chance of success on its merits. But the judge said that without making a better case it has very little chance to succeed. Ovadal said the case will go forward. "We think that the pedestrian overpasses are a safe and effective way to
conduct our message," the minister said. "We will prove that at trial," which was set for November 22.