ICC Note: The U.S. Supreme Court will listen to arguments in a suit brought by an Arizona church against the city of Gilbert, which it says has unfairly restricted the use of signs advertising church services and events. The city allows large signs advertising political events and businesses to remain in place on public property for long periods of time while restricting signs placed by churches to a maximum of 12 hours. As one judge pointed out at a lower level court, this means that churches are only able to advertise Sunday morning services 12 hours before hand, meaning the signs are up mostly during the night. Across the U.S. many Christians and churches have felt pressure from local governments using city ordinances to push faith-based groups from the public sphere.
9/25/2014 United States (Christian News) – The U.S. Supreme Court will soon take up a lawsuit by a small church in Arizona over restrictions on its signs.
Good News Presbyterian Church in Gilbert, Arizona, lives on a shoestring. Its Sunday services are held at a senior center. In the past, it used an elementary school.
The church, which has only a couple of dozen members, is heavily dependent on signs posted around town that advertise its service hours and location. Under Gilbert’s sign code, those temporary directional signs are dwarfed by others that can be much larger and stay on public property much longer—political campaign signs, for instance.
For six years, the church and its pastor, Clyde Reed, have waged a legal battle against the town for equal treatment. Its free-speech claim is that non-commercial signs should be treated similarly. Although political signs can be 32 square feet and stand for up to five months in some cases, the church’s signs are limited to six square feet and only can be up 12 hours before each service.
Though the dispute focuses only on a town sign code, the church’s lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom, which focuses on religious-freedom issues, say it applies to billboards, news racks, picketing, cable broadcast signals and video games.
The town says the restrictions are due to the reasons for posting signs—and elections are different from directions.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with the town in a divided ruling.
Judge Paul Watford, who was named to the bench by President Obama and is a potential Supreme Court nominee, dissented. He noted that the time limitation on Good News’ signs relegates them mostly to darkness.