In 2006, our General Assembly looked around and realized they had solved all the major problems facing our state — education, crime, unemployment, environmental degradation. Check. Check. Check. And check.
With time on their hands and resources to burn, these bold lawmakers took on the crisis of billboards advertising adult businesses along our public roads. That’s right! Our freedoms, nation, our very way of life was being threatened by these wicked signs — especially the one on Interstate 26 in Orangeburg County, advertising the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore.
Under the new law, such businesses could not advertise on billboards within one mile of any public road. Problem solved, right? Wrong!
It seems the legislature — which is lousy with lawyers — had never read the U.S. Constitution, specifically the part that grants freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Implied in that is also freedom of billboards. Or at least that was the opinion of U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie, who issued a permanent injunction last week against state officials from taking down billboards belonging to the Lion’s Den.
The state’s case was argued by Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Henry McMaster. According to the Associated Press, McMaster argued that “the signs could distract teenagers and other drivers as well as young children who may not understand what they are seeing out the car window.”
“It is not unreasonable to believe that billboards along a highway cause many children to be exposed to sexually oriented businesses before they have the maturity to understand what they see or may be told in explanation of what they see,” McMaster wrote.
Curiously, in a state that cares so much about what children see on billboards, there is precious little concern for the quality of their education, for their healthcare or rate of poverty, or for violence committed against them. In fact, South Carolina ranked 45th in the nation in child well-being, according to 2009 Kids Count Data Book, released in July by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
McMaster said he was not surprised at the federal court ruling — and frankly, neither was I. This brings up a couple of questions: If I knew the law was unconstitutional and I am not even a lawyer, how could our General Assembly, with scores of attorneys, have gotten it so wrong? And if McMaster knew the law was unconstitutional, why did he not warn the solons against the folly of passing it and how much public time and money did he spend defending it in federal court?
To those with a sense of humor, this state is an infinite source of amusement.