U.S. Supreme Court

Church's sign-restriction challenge will be heard by SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a First Amendment challenge to a sign ordinance by an Arizona pastor and his church.

The court agreed on Tuesday to hear the challenge by Pastor Clyde Reed, and his church in Gilbert, Arizona, report the National Law Journal, SCOTUSblog, the Arizona Republic and Cronkite News Service. The cert petition identifies the church as the Good News Community Church, but some news stories identify it as the Good News Presbyterian Church.

At issue is the proper test that courts should use when deciding whether a sign ordinance is content-neutral, according to the cert petition (PDF). The petition has identified as three-way split among the circuit courts on the issue.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Reed and the church. The cert petition claims that Gilbert’s sign ordinance treats temporary signs directing parishioners to the sites of its church services worse than temporary signs promoting political, ideological and other messages.

The church uses its signs to invite and direct residents to the site of worship services held in rented space at local school districts. The town classifies the church signs as “qualifying event signs” that promote events, meetings and activities of certain nonprofit groups.

The cert petition provides some examples of differing treatment between the church’s “qualifying event signs” and political signs. Political signs can be as large as 32 square feet, while the church signs can be no larger than six square feet. There is no limit on the number of political signs, but the church signs are limited to four per property. Political signs can be displayed for five months if there is a primary election, but the church signs can be displayed for just 14 hours.

Gilbert town attorney Michael Hamblin released a statement to the Cronkite News Service saying the town believes the Supreme Court will reject the church’s claims, as did the federal trial court and the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The town’s response (PDF) to the cert petition claims the church has “distorted beyond recognition” the 9th Circuit’s opinion in the case “in a misplaced effort to manufacture a ‘circuit split’ on a First Amendment issue.”

The case is Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

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