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Trump flag fines violated free speech, Minnesota appeals court rules

A business owner had displayed a 30- by- 50 foot flag saying “TRUMP 2020 Keep America Great” from atop a mobile construction crane on his business’s property in Buffalo, Minnesota.

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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has sided with a man who faced $600 in city fines for flying a large pro-Donald Trump flag from a 150-foot crane on his property.

In a ruling issued this week, the court said the city of Buffalo had violated Jay Johnson’s free speech protections. The business owner had faced action from the city for displaying a 30-by-50-foot flag saying “TRUMP 2020 Keep America Great” from atop a mobile construction crane on his business’s property in Buffalo.

The city of Buffalo sent Johnson multiple notices that his flag display had violated city ordinances because it was too big, couldn’t be flown from equipment and required Johnson to obtain a permit. Johnson attempted to appeal the notices in 2021, arguing his flag was protected speech. The city upheld the penalties.

Johnson claimed city officials had enforced the sign ordinance in a discriminatory manner. While the city ordinance placed size restrictions on commercial displays, it did not apply to his 1,500-foot flag as it was not related to his business, he argued in court filings.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Johnson’s argument that since the city allows holiday displays larger than the size restrictions in its ordinance, the city “impermissibly creates a content-based regulation of speech.” The court found the content restriction unconstitutional and overturned the city’s decision.

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Buffalo City Administrator Loreen Bodin said the city is disappointed with the appeals court's ruling but has not yet decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Johnson’s attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Buffalo is about 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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