Greek organizations may soon be forced to hide their pride

By Ashlee Cossaboon

A new City of Radford Zoning Ordinance may drastically restrict the way Greek organizations display their signs. The Radford City Council is scheduled to vote on the most recent version of the ordinance at their next meeting, which City Attorney Jim Guynn Jr. says should be held within two weeks of the Feb. 12 meeting.

Section 120-139 of the zoning ordinance defines a Greek organization sign as "any sign, flag, banner or other object used to identify a Greek organization (fraternity, sorority, or club)." The section continues to outline the new requirements that would be placed on Greek organization signs.

A flag no larger than three feet by five feet, once it has been approved by Radford University's Office of Student Affairs and the Zoning Administrator, may be hung on a house located within approximately five blocks east or west of RU's campus.

All non-flag Greek organization signs may only be displayed during RU Homecoming, Rush and Greek Week. All signs must be approved and may only be exhibited from the Friday of the event until the Sunday evening following the event.

During the public hearing portion of the Radford City Council meeting held Feb. 12, Dr. William Kovarik, an RU media studies professor and Radford City resident, asked the council to remove the section restricting Greek organization signs.

"There was an awful lot of hard work done on this, and I am here to praise 99 percent of it," Kovarik began after taking the floor. "Imposing a prior restraint on students in the university district [] in a way that's not content neutral [] creates a situation where a citizen is approaching the city saying 'Is this OK for me to express myself in this way?' With any system of prior restraint, the government really has to prove why it's doing this. I don't understand, I've never understood what the compelling government interest is."

According to, prior restraint is "an attempt to prevent publication or broadcast of any statement, which is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and free press." Black's Law Dictionary, the definitive law dictionary for U.S. law, states, "prior restraints on speech and publication are the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights."

In a written version of his comments given to council members, Kovarik stated, "Whether or not frat houses get to hang out their signs matters very little in the long run. But what does matter, a great deal, is that the spirit of freedom be fostered among RU students."

RU senior and social work major Katie Arberg echoed Kovarik's feelings on the subject. "I think it's something people don't understand, and they feel like Greek organizations just represent partying, and they don't look at what else they're doing in the community. I just don't see the harm in it."

"It's just letters and comments," said RU senior Clarissa Culbert. "As long as it's not profanity, I don't think there's a problem."

Should section 120-139 pass, the Greek organization sign ordinance could have unexpected consequences.

"I'm a member of Chi Alpha, and we're a campus ministry group, we're not in the Greek community, but we're represented by Greek letters because of Christian tradition," said RU senior and social work major Misty Keene. "It's posed problems in the past. We had to take down our letters when we were on Main Street."

Since the ordinance identifies a Greek organization as a fraternity, sorority or club, Chi Alpha may be included. However, other campus ministry organization such as The Canterbury House and the Wesley Foundation may display their signs without such restrictions.

Even if Chi Alpha is exempt, there is no logical reasoning in the ordinance explaining why RU sororities and fraternities are being targeted and other on-campus organizations are being left alone. Other Virginia college cities such as Blacksburg and Charlottesville do not endorse similar restrictions on Greek signs.

"The rights of American citizens are not given to them by the government," Kovarik stated. "Free speech rights are not a privilege, like a driver's license. These rights are inherent, inalienable, natural rights."

The ordinance can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The e-mail addresses of all Radford City Council members can be found at

Date Posted:   02/16/2007   |   Time Posted:   13:54:38 | Views: 27564

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