It's more than a yard sign, even in red-and-blue zone

From Raleigh lawyer Tom Earnhardt:

I have long appreciated the plastic and cardboard messages dividing neighborhoods into “Red” and “Blue” zones as an important element of free expression in America's election ritual.

Over the past month, however, my sentiments about free expression have been challenged, and replaced by disgust, as three different Obama signs have disappeared from our lawn in the middle of the night. In two instances only a twisted wire frame remained, and in the other a McCain/Palin sign was left as an exclamation mark to the trespass.

At first my family and I tried to dismiss the disappearing signs as acts performed by “people from outside our neighborhood,” “teenagers,” or “the grumpy old man on the next street.” With the disappearance of the second and third signs, we were not as forgiving. It was as though we had been “mugged” on our front lawn…. Even longtime friends on our street, who happen to have a McCain/Palin banner in their yard, called to register their genuine concern and dismay over the “mindless” theft of our competing posters.

I am certain that across North Carolina and the nation, large numbers of “John McCain” posters, and yard signs for other candidates, have also taken flight in the middle of the night. There will always be random acts of vandalism, which require no deep analysis. However, the conscious removal or destruction of any campaign sign on private land is much more than a simple illegal act.

Displays of support for political candidates in our yards, or on our personal vehicles, are an exercise of our First Amendment freedoms. Simple signs, proclaiming loyalty to a candidate or party, are for many Americans the best, or only, way to express political thoughts and beliefs. Any desecration of these symbols of our democracy, especially when done by individuals on a recurring basis, cannot be tolerated. When a yard sign for any candidate is ripped out in the middle of the night, there is a tear in our national fabric of tolerance and civility. Regardless of who wins this election, Barack Obama or John McCain, we all win when our signs stand tall and the process is free from taint.