PHOENIX — The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of a small suburban Phoenix church over a town signage ordinance.
Good News Community Church Pastor Clyde Reed in Gilbert had sued the town for banning curb signs directing patrons to church services at a school.
Gilbert officials said the “directional” signs were an impediment on public footpaths and against code.
“Speech discrimination is wrong regardless of whether the government intended to violate the First Amendment or not, and it doesn’t matter if the government thinks its discrimination was well-intended,” Reed’s lawyer, David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement.
“It’s still government playing favorites, and that’s unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court today found.”
The Court opinion, which ruled Gilbert’s sign code was unconstitutional, read, in part:
The Sign Code’s content-based restrictions do not survive strict
scrutiny because the Town has not demonstrated that the Code’s differentiation between temporary dire
ctional signs and other types of
signs furthers a compelling govern
mental interest and is narrowly
tailored to that end.
Town cannot claim that placing strict limits on temporary directional
signs is necessary to beautify the Town when other types of signs
create the same problem. See
at 425. Nor
has it shown that temporary directional signs pose a greater threat to
public safety than ideological or political signs. Pp. 14-15.
In a statement, Gilbert said it will review its regulations to comply with the decision.
Reed filed suit in 2007. The justices heard the arguments in January.
Liberal and conservative justices alike expressed misgivings with the Gilbert sign ordinance.
It places more restrictions on the church’s temporary signs than those erected by political candidates, real estate agents and others.
Directional signs can’t be bigger than six square feet and can only be displayed in public areas for 12 hours, at the most, before the event it is advertising.
Then it must come down one hour after it ends.
Political candidates’ signs can be up to 32 square feet and can stay up for months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.