The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a small Arizona church Thursday, saying its free speech and religious liberty were violated by a local government ordinance unfairly discriminating against the church.
Good News Community Church moved locations so often it used signs to let its devoted know where the next service would be.
The town of Gilbert had strict sign ordinances that specified how big signs could be and how long they could stay posted, all of which varied depending on the content of the sign.
Signs for religious events could be put up 12 hours before the event and had to be taken down within one hour after it ended. But political signs could stay up for months and ideological signs could stay up indefinitely.
The town of Gilbert used its strict sign ordinance to drop the hammer on the church, preventing it from posting signs the day before and causing a serious problem for the fledgling flock.
Clyde Reed, the church’s pastor who is over 80 years old, decided to take the town to court, and Reed v. Town of Gilbert made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
“We were thrilled about the Supreme Court’s ruling including it’s breadth,” David Cortman, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who argued before the Supreme Court, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The town argued it had done nothing wrong and that regulating what the city could do could have far-reaching consequences, something Cortman dismissed.
“And in order to pass strict scrutiny, the legislatures in these towns and cities across this country would be inclined to ban all signs except those that the First Amendment absolutely allows,” Philip Savrin, who represented Gilbert, said during oral arguments.
The Supreme Court took issue with the town valuing one type of speech over another and ruled unanimously in favor of the church.
Cortman told TheDCNF the ruling means cities across the country will have to modify their sign ordinances so they don’t favor certain types of speech. He said they don’t have to censor anything, just treat all speech equally.
“The answer to speech that offends us is more speech, not censorship,” Cortman told TheDCNF.
Cortman says it is a victory for all free speech, not just religious signs. The town has since changed its sign ordinance.
“What the Court said today is that discrimination against churches and other religious groups violates the Constitution even if it doesn’t come packaged with a confession that ‘We’re discriminating against you!'” Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told TheDCNF. “The Supreme Court rightfully placed the burden of proof on government officials who want to suppress speech, not on tiny churches like the one in this lawsuit.”
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