Supreme Court Sides With Arizona Church In Battle Over Signs

Alex Pfeiffer | White House Correspondent

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of the Good News Community Church, striking down Gilbert, Arizona’s law that treated religious signs different from others.

The Gilbert sign code applied restrictions to how long the church, led by Pastor Clyde Reed, could keep up signs throughout the town letting people know where they would hold service. The Good News Community Church lacked a permanent structure and its congregation would meet in various locations such as elementary schools.

Members of the parish would post signs up early Saturday and remove them the following day around midday. They got cited for this twice by the town’s sign code compliance manager.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of the church, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinion.

“The Sign Code identifies various categories of signs based on the type of information they convey, then subjects each category to different restrictions. One of the categories is ‘Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event,’ loosely defined as signs directing the public to a meeting of a nonprofit group. §4.402(P). The Code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny,” wrote Thomas, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr, Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel A Alito Jr, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority opinion

Justice Elena Kagan was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in concurring with the majority opinion that Gilbert, AZ’s sign code violates the First amendment, but questioning whether it deserves “strict scrutiny.”

They believe that this ruling shouldn’t be applied to all such ordinances around the nation. Kagan says, “The consequence—unless courts water down strict scrutiny to something unrecognizable—is that our communities will find themselves in an unenviable bind: They will have to either repeal the exemptions that allow for helpful signs on streets and sidewalks, or else lift their sign restrictions altogether and resign themselves to the resulting clutter.”

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