Code Enforcement Research Proposal

Pages: 6 (2000 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Law

Code Enforcement in the State of Florida:

Flags, Signs, and Freedom of Expression

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The freedoms of modern day Americans are increasingly defined by a complex web of minute rules and regulations. State codes and municipal ordinances tell us how, what, and where we can build. Zoning laws limit our right of expression as a means of preserving neighborhood homogeneity and property values. Many communities across Florida have stringent laws restricting the use and display of signage. Signs are frequently defined as almost anything attached to the exterior of a structure, including but not limited to: advertising signs, name and address markers, holiday decorations, and even national and state flags. Indeed, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, many Floridians chose to display the American flag prominently on their properties, a choice also made by numerous Florida business owners. Yet, these very displays of personal and corporate patriotism run afoul of zoning requirements. Those who displayed these flags were ordered to remove them or face heavy fines and other penalties. Large numbers of Floridians see these flag proscriptions as limitations on the fundamental right to freedom of speech that is guaranteed by the United States Constitution and also, ostensibly, by the constitution of the State of Florida. Disagreements have led to legal challenges. The fight becomes an argument over which takes precedence -- the preservation of neighborhood uniformity and property values, or the right of individuals to express themselves peacefully in ways they deem appropriate. Enforcement of Florida codes must be defined in terms of fundamental freedoms.

Research Proposal on Code Enforcement Assignment

Florida codes typically regulate the external appearance of residential and commercial structures for the purpose of preserving or even enhancing property values. Home buyers come from all over the country and the world to enjoy the local climate and the Florida way of life. Potential buyers expect a community to offer the safety, convenience, and style they expect amid a setting of year-round sunshine and warmth. The greater the amount of residential development in an area, the greater the number of businesses that will locate in the same general location both to provide services and take advantage of the local labor market. An ill-kept and crime ridden neighborhood is not likely to attract many buyers. Describing the process of buying a home in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, a realtor noted,

Beyond avoiding trouble spots, what makes a good neighborhood? "That's like asking what's pornography," says Ralph Rice, a realtor in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. "You'll know it when you see it. If you're near schools and churches, future buyers probably will look upon those as favorable features." Rice also says that unkempt lawns and nighttime noise are red flags.

Home-buying is a highly emotional experience. Buyers "sense" what is right, their reactions to a property based on first sensual impressions as much or more than they may be based on actual research into the nature of the area. A formula that works is, in the opinion of most sellers and real estate agents, surely a formula that is worth preserving -- thus the increasing prevalence of careful zoning laws. Today's speculative real estate developers (particularly in the period of the recent housing boom) construct vast housing subdivisions based on standardized plans. "Cookie cutter" towns spring up almost overnight. The housing designs in any given community typically offer only relatively minor variations from model to model. Controlling external appearance is of extreme importance. Anything that significantly mars the view can destroy prices in an entire neighborhood. Business owners, too, face similar rules and regulations as the external appearance of their properties also contributes to the general feel and; therefore, overall value of a neighborhood.

In violation of a local zoning ordinance, Orlando businesswoman Nancy Maddox displayed a 34 1/2 x 23-inch American flag in each of the fifteen windows of her home furnishings company. The display was clearly visible from the street, and offered a marked contrast to the appearance of other buildings in the area. Ms. Maddox was cited by Orlando municipal authorities.

Her case was taking by an organization called Liberty Counsel. The organization's Chief Counsel, Erik Stanley, believes the Orlando ordinance to contain procedure defects, and states also, that it is unconstitutional.

Many Americans would argue that displaying the flag is a matter of personal choice, a decision that reflects deeply-held feelings about their country, and is often a sign of respect for those who have served the United Sates in war and possibly even given their lives. Such displays of the flag are not intended for commercial purposes, nor are they intended as mere decoration. Still, the Orlando Code Enforcement Bureau chose to see this instance of the displaying the flag as falling under its regulations regarding the display of "business signs." Specifically, the owner of the home furnishings company was contacted on three different occasions by three different individuals representing the Orlando Code Enforcement Bureau. She was faxed the text of an ordinance that stated, "Large signs require permits to ensure they meet standards and will not become projectiles during high wind events such as afternoon thunderstorms and hurricanes."

Interesting in this case is the fact that the ordinance in question appears to apply specifically to issues of hurricane safety. How, one might ask, do flags displayed inside a window become dangerous projectiles during a violent storm?

Laws that are meant for one purpose can easily be interpreted to apply to quite different situations. In the above case, an ordinance that was meant to prevent injury from airborne debris during a hurricane was instead used to interfere with an American citizen's fundamental right of free expression and freedom of speech. The right to display, even to desecrate, the American flag speaks directly to conceptions of free speech. As noted by Mark R. Arbuckle,

Flags are symbolic by definition. Symbolic expression is their purpose. The United States flag is the symbol of the country. Those who display the flag, whether it is at a private residence or a public place, do so to communicate a message. This became clear as flags appeared all across the country following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

United States Supreme Court cases, such as the United States v. O'Brien (1968), Wooly v. Maynard (1977), and Texas v. Johnson (1989), have all established that the displaying of the American flag is a form of symbolic speech.

Americans may choose to fly the flag either as a sign of patriotic sentiment, or even as a means of protesting against the very nation that flag represents -- it is a matter of individual conscience. Further, legal precedent has shown that the flag may be used in numerous different contexts, all of which may be deemed to represent a form of free expression. Individuals have placed peace symbols or other devices on the American flag as an indication of their dissatisfaction with America's military policies.

In the instance of Ms. Maddox, the flag was displayed to show support for those who have served in our nation's wars, and also to demonstrate a general appreciation for the United States and its policies and values. Zoning Codes are meant to control land use and, as stated, to maintain property values. That the Orlando Code Enforcement Bureau chose to interpret Ms. Maddox's flags as a "business sign" rather than as an example of constitutionally-protected free speech, reveals either an ignorance of the real nature of the display, or a willful disregard for the rights and ideas of others.

In enforcing zoning laws and other state and municipal codes, officials must take cognizance of both the intended meaning of the existing regulations and the actual nature of the conditions to which they are applied. In many ways, it is a matter of the spirit of the law vs. The substance of the law. On yet more profound levels, authorities must be careful not to infringe on the beliefs of others, and even more importantly, refrain from attempting to shape those beliefs. The use of zoning laws to enforce social conformity or political belief is what Richard A. Posner calls the "pragmatic approach" to the interpretation and enforcement of these regulations, one which may rapidly become oppressive as people enact laws that seek to prevent the offending of their most deeply-held convictions.

A conflict between different belief systems would appear to have played a significant role in the Orlando case as whether or not a flag was displayed in the windows of Ms. Maddox's business does not seem to bear directly on the property values that are the usual object of zoning laws. In fact, the ordnance in question looks to have been more closely related to issues of public safety than to property value. Building codes, in so far as they purport protect the public from injury, clearly serve a useful purpose, but when their stipulations are extended too far, these provisions too, become oppressive. Ultimately, the Orlando Code Enforcement Bureau claimed to have no knowledge of ever having cited, or threatened… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Code Enforcement.  (2009, April 27).  Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/code-enforcement/787783

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"Code Enforcement."  Essaytown.com.  April 27, 2009.  Accessed October 29, 2020.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/code-enforcement/787783.