Efforts by county officials in the Florida Panhandle to undermine both the property rights and the First Amendment rights of owners of a beachfront home came to naught March 23 when Gov. Rick Scott signed a law reaffirming key foundations of the U.S. Constitution.

Officials in Walton County, eager to throw their weight around, enacted an ordinance banning owners of beachfront homes from posting signs on their property alerting the public that their private property was, well, private and that beachgoers should not trespass on it. The county’s ire was directed against Edward and Delanie Goodwin who were threatened with huge fines unless the couple removed two signs — “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” — plus a third sign that simply said:

“If Walton County Wants My Property, It Must Pay For It – U.S. Constitution”

Instead of meekly submitting to the county’s edict, the couple enlisted the support of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), and, together, they raised such a stink that the state legislature stepped in and put the county in its place. The new state las now requires the county to go to court if it wants to claim any right for the public to use private property.

The county’s ban left the Goodwins, and other beachfront homeowners and landowners, with no other reasonable alternative to let the beach-going public know about their property boundary and their property rights, or to post messages about any other issues.

Stood to Lose Important Property Rights

Without the ability to put up signs and mark the boundary of their land, the Goodwins stood to lose important property rights, including the right to protect their family’s privacy, and to protect the fragile vegetation along the edge of their beach property, which secures and stabilizes the upland dunes.

Over the years, the Goodwins had to put up with beachgoers who put up tents on their property, left trash behind, allowed their pets to defecate on their property, and, on occasion, even entered their home. Their understandable response was to post signs reminding the public whose property it was and to respect the owners’ privacy.

To the county, which never hesitated to run its vehicles on the couple’s property, this was unacceptable, so it passed an ordinance banning all “obstructions” on the beach, including signs. Ironically, the Walton County Sheriff acknowledged that it was impossible to enforce trespassing laws without such signs.

By standing up to the county, the Goodwins performed a huge service to beachfront property owners everywhere.

Author

  • Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

    Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Busines Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country. He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.