The United States Supreme Court overturned a law Thursday which prohibited an Arizona church and other religious institutions from displaying advertisements for events.
In Reed v. Gilbert, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Pastor Clyde Reed and the Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz., which challenged a town ordinance placing restrictions on “directional signs” advertising events for religious organizations. The restrictions mandated that signs be limited to six square feet in size and could only be put up within 14 hours of an event. Political signs and others, however, could be displayed for several months. Western Journalism’s B. Christopher Agee gave background on the case last year:
Two lower courts found that the town is within its rights to impose differing rules on sign placement based on the parties involved, provided the regulations are not based on the sign’s content.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas offered the court’s opinion. “The Town has offered no reason to believe that directional signs pose a greater threat to safety than do ideological or political signs,” wrote Thomas. “If anything, a sharply worded ideological sign seems more likely to distract a driver than a sign directing the public to a nearby church meeting.”
A sign ordinance narrowly tailored to the challenges of protecting the safety of pedestrians, drivers, and passengers—such as warning signs marking hazards on private property, signs directing traffic, or street numbers associated with private houses — well might survive strict scrutiny.
The signs at issue in this case, including political and ideological signs and signs for events, are far removed from those purposes. As discussed above, they are facially content based and are neither justified by traditional safety concerns nor narrowly tailored.
Concurring opinions were filed by Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.
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