Owner of The Cozy Inn Sues City of Salina Over Mural Dispute, Alleging Free Speech Infringement

By Trish Svoboda

Steve Howard, owner of The Cozy Inn, a burger joint in Salina, Kansas, initiated a federal lawsuit against the City of Salina after being instructed by city officials to cease painting a mural on the side of The Cozy.

The burger joint, a Salina landmark serving hamburgers for over a century, holds sentimental value for Howard, who expressed his desire to complete the mural, considering Salina his hometown. The community of Salina has numerous murals, and Howard envisioned The Cozy becoming part of this artistic culture. Howard collaborated with local artist Colin Benson and had him paint a whimsical mural portraying burger-shaped flying saucers flown by aliens attacking The Cozy with condiment blasts.

However, city officials intervened, proclaiming that since Howard sells hamburgers and the mural resembles hamburgers, it constituted a regulated sign and thus violated city code. Howard, supported by The Cozy and the Kansas Justice Institute (KJI), filed the lawsuit to challenge the city’s restrictions on murals, arguing that they infringe upon the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech. The lawsuit does not seek monetary compensation but seeks to uphold the constitutional right to artistic expression.

“Downtown Salina is vibrant, unique, and beautiful. The Cozy’s artistic mural is too. The First Amendment protects the right to finish the mural,” says Sam MacRoberts, KJI litigation director. “Salina is a great city with a set of really bad, unconstitutional laws and policies.”

This case forms a component of KJI’s litigation campaign aimed at contesting laws that impede the freedom of speech. In addition, it contributes to KJI’s litigation efforts aimed at pushing back against municipal authorities.

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