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Town can't declare inflatable rat a pest

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- In New Jersey, even rats have the right to free speech.

The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a 10-foot inflatable rodent used at union protests around the state is protected speech.

The case has pitted a local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers against a central New Jersey town.

Lawrence Township fined the union for using the rat in a 2005 protest. It said it violated an ordinance against balloons and other inflatable signs.

Union lawyers argued that the law violates the right to free expression and suppresses protest.

The township claimed the union's use of the rat was a form of commercial speech and was less deserving of First Amendment protections.

The court ruled the town's ordinance was too broad and violated the First Amendment.