Geno sign back up at EH store
By Joe Ax
Journal Inquirer Staff
East Hartford- A local storeowner who has waged a personal free speech war against town officials over a sign in his window will be permitted to put a similar, albeit smaller, sign back up, Mayor Timothy D. Larson said today.
The decision comes after the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the town over the issue on behalf of Ken Bernacky, who owns Stereo Surgeons, a repair shop on Main Street.
The sign reads, "GENO IS GOD," in reference to Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team, who guided his squad to an undefeated season and a national championship last spring.
Ken Bernacky has habitually posted the sign each year during the NCAA women's basketball championship.
The town had forced Bernacky to remove the sign several weeks ago, citing zoning regulations that call for any temporary sign celebrating a specific event to come down after a period of two months has passed following the event.
Officials told Bernacky he would have to pay a $25 fine each day if he did not comply.
The matter had come to the town's attention after several members of St. John Episcopal Church across the street had complained that the sign was blasphemous.
Larson stressed that while he, too, was offended by the sign as a Catholic, the ruling has been based on the sign's temporary nature, not on its content.
It now appears, however, that the initial ruling did not pass legal muster.
Larson said the issue had been forwarded to corporation counsel after the lawsuit threat, and the town's lawyer had determined that the town could regulate only the sign's size.
Accordingly, Larson said, Bernacky can replace the sign so long as it does not cover 25 percent of the window.
Bernacky, who has said the sign is not meant to have any religious significance, could not be reached for comment this morning.
But he has repeatedly called the town's ruling "unconstitutional" and accused officials of robbing him of his right to free speech.
On his Web site, he said the media attention his story has generated eventually led renowned civil rights lawyer Gerry Spence to encourage him to continue to fight.
Bernacky has said town officials were using zoning regulations as a "smokescreen" to justify the removal of the sign to "appease" those who have complained.
Auriemma previously declined to comment on the situation.
Bernacky's Web site is: www.stereosurgeons.com