N.H. ACLU: Newington Rule That Prompted Removal Of Pride Signs Is Unconstitutional

Jul 16, 2019

The LGBTQ advocacy group Seacoast Outright, seen here marching in Portsmouth Pride last month, is calling for Newington's town administrator to resign.
Credit Ben Kramer / via Seacoast Outright

Local leaders in Newington are coming under fire after town employees removed Pride month signs from some residents' lawns last month.

Town administrator Martha Roy says the small Seacoast town has long enforced a local ordinance restricting certain signs advertising special events.

She says it wasn't her decision, but that's what happened in June with signs advertising neighboring Portsmouth's annual Pride march.

Roy declined a recorded interview with NHPR Tuesday, but calls Newington an “open community” and says she doesn’t believe the signs’ removal was a rejection of the LGBTQ+ celebration.

Some locals are skeptical. Patrick Patterson, a Newington resident and board member of the advocacy group Seacoast Outright, says the town has selectively enforced its sign ordinance over the years.

Patterson says he was troubled during a recent town hall visit to hear town employees calling Pride "the gay event."

"It's hard not to kind of have in the back of your head that there was some ill intent, that there was somebody that did not agree with what the signs stood for when they pulled them,” Patterson says.

Seacoast Outright wants Roy, the town administrator, to resign. 

She says she does not believe there are grounds for her resignation – or that the town’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional.

That’s what the state ACLU argues in a letter to Roy dated July 13.

“People in New Hampshire have a First Amendment right to place whatever signs they want on their property,” the letter says. “Moreover, the Town’s ordinance enforced here requiring permits for some signs, but not others … impermissibly discriminates on the basis of content.”

The ACLU’s letter demands that the town stop enforcing the ordinance and return the removed Pride signs by July 22. Roy says the town’s attorney is reviewing that request.