A small church in Gilbert, Arizona has taken its sign case to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to change the city’s code, which depending on the outcome, could directly impact future rulings regarding First Amendment rights.
Signs advertising real estate agents and political campaigns populate streets and sidewalks for weeks at a time, while others are restricted to more specific dates and sizes, leading the church to believe that its free speech rights have been violated.
The First Amendment issue facing this case is content neutrality. Content-neutral regulations aim not to limit speech but to provide regulations based on the circumstances of how types of speech can take place.
Good News Presbyterian Church rents space to hold its services for approximately 30 adults and 10 children. Good News pastor Clyde Reed argues that the sign code in place in Gilbert is discriminatory because it specifies the size of the signs he can put up to advertise the church’s religious services as well as the number of signs and how long they are permitted to stay posted.
Directional signs posted in public places, like local neighborhoods and retirement communities, must not exceed 6 square feet, can be posted no earlier than 12 hours before the event and must be taken down within an hour after the event’s end. By contrast, political signs may be as large as 20 square feet and can remain posted for the duration of a political campaign, The Washington Post said.
The city said that Reed’s rights have not been violated by the sign code because all non-commercial signs must follow the same rules, regardless of content. However, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Scottsdale-based conservative Christian activist group representing Reed, argues that Gilbert’s code may not be content neutral just because the city said it does not discriminate based on content, azcentral reports.
The Supreme Court appears to be leaning in favor of the church; but their ruling could simply affect the Gilbert ordinance and little else, or the justices could take a broader ruling that could affect future free speech cases.
Reed first sued Gilbert in 2007, after the he was cited for posting signs too early. Since then, other courts have ruled in favor of the city.
Several religious activist groups and the Obama administration support Reed and are urging the Supreme Court to change the city’s sign ordinance, The Washington Post said.
An opinion is expected to be given by the Supreme Court by June.
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