Pennsylvania Couple Risks Jail Time Sign on Their House Opposing Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 10, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania Couple Risks Jail Time Sign on Their House Opposing Abortion

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
August 10, 2004

Washington, DC ( — The pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union is coming to the defense of a Pennsylvania couple who have been threatened with jail time for posting a pro-life sign on their front porch.

Paula Knudsen of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said in an Associated Press article that the issue "cuts to the heart of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Three weeks ago, Colman and Frances Wessel of Paxtang, Pennsylvania erected a sign with a pro-life message and a picture of Jesus Christ.

Paxtang city officials claim the sign violates a borough ordinance restricting signs to those "for public, religious and charitable institutions and uses such as parks, schools, churches and similar uses."

But the ACLU, which routinely files litigation defending legal abortion, takes a different view, arguing that the Wessels are simply exercising their Constitutional rights in posting the sign.

"It doesn’t matter whether it’s affixed to your house, in your yard, or to a banner flying from your balcony. Political and religious messages are protected by the First Amendment," the ACLU’s Knudsen said.

Still, borough officials have threatened the Wessels with up to two months in jail and a $500 fine for refusing to remove the sign from outside their home.

A code enforcement officer sent a letter to the couple saying the sign "does not promote a charity of any kind. Therefore, you are required to remove the sign immediately."

However, the Wessels have refused to budge.

Colman Wessel told the local press, "We’re just exercising our freedom of speech and religion. Is it the pro-life words or the picture of Jesus they don’t like?"

The Wessel house is not the only Paxtang home with signs out front. Other homes sport signs in support of political candidates and troops in Iraq.

However, Paxtang Mayor William J. Parker, who says he opposes abortion, wants the sign removed.

Parker told the local press, "If everyone with a self-serving interest puts a sign up, we’d have signs all over Paxtang. That’s a visual impairment. When will it end?"

Pro-life leaders in Pennsylvania say they’re shocked at the way the Wessels have been treated. The sign contains no graphic images — only a statement in defense of the pro-life cause and the "Sacred Heart of Jesus," a popular Catholic image.

"If you can have a flag on your porch proclaiming your allegiance to your favorite football team, you ought to be able to show your support for the pro-life movement in a similar way," said a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.