Free-speech advocate appears in Port Townsend court, agrees to put down signs for now
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Erik Olsen, right, appears with Jefferson Associated Counsel investigator Jack Range in Jefferson County District Court on Monday. — Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A man who is testing the limits of the Port Townsend sign ordinance has agreed to comply with the law until his next court appearance.

Richard Erik Olson, who goes by the name Arhata Osho, will keep his free-speech displays within the city's limits of 5 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 3 feet high until he faces misdemeanor charges of code violation at
9 a.m. May 28 in Jefferson County District Court, 1820 Jefferson St.

Olson appeared in front of Judge Pro Tem Rafael Urquia with Jack Range, who is employed by Jefferson Associated Counsel.

Olson intended to act as his own attorney but changed his mind just before the hearing.

Olson's display, which has been located in the same spot at Pope Marine Park for more than a year, extends 50-60 feet across the park's brickwork.

That violates the city's newly enacted code, which was approved in February and became effective March 18.

Olson has said the new ordinance is directed only at him and restricts his free speech.

The city maintains that the ordinance is necessary to protect the free speech of others and provide a clear right of way through the downtown area.

Olson approached the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which declined to take the case, stating that municipalities are within their rights to restrict the time, place and manner of speech, and such laws — like those in Port Townsend — do not interfere with free speech itself.

Olson was first cited with a $100 ticket on March 27 for not complying with the sign code, which did not require a court appearance.

He continued to display his signs and was given two additional citations on March 30 and March 31, elevating it to a misdemeanor charge and compelling his court appearance.

Olson's signs were stolen on the night of April 6 from an unsecured location in Port Hudson where they were stored.

This loss limited the size of his display, but Olson still operated outside of the regulations even with a diminished number of signs.

Olson changed his name to Osho after a 17-year career on Wall Street and began displaying signs on Southern California beaches in 1994.

Two years later, he had about 20 signs in his display. His collection had grown to 40 before the theft, but he usually uses about 20 at a time.

He finances the operation with a combination of disability checks and profits from a meditation center he operates in Port Townsend.

He said he moved to Port Townsend in 2007 because of its open-mindedness and good weather for what he wanted to do, with large numbers of people who pass through.

He handwrites the signs in magic marker, but the messages originate on his computer and are viewable on his blog, www.arhataosho.com, which touts “spiritual free speech.”

Olson said the purpose of the signs is to provoke discussion and cause controversy.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 14. 2014 6:03PM
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