Susan Walsh, AP
Good News Community Church Pastor Clyde Reed, center, smiles as he leaves the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, with his wife Ann, left. The Supreme Court appears likely to side with a small church in its fight with a Phoenix suburb over limits on roadside signs directing people to Sunday services. Liberal and conservative justices expressed misgivings Monday with the Gilbert, Arizona, sign ordinance because it places more restrictions on the churches' temporary signs than those erected by political candidates, real estate agents and others. The Good News Community Church sued over limits that Gilbert places on so-called directional signs, like the ones the church places around town to point people to its services in local schools and retirement communities.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that an Arizona town's restriction of signs posted by a church violated its free speech rights.
The Good News Community Church posts signs to invite the community to its services, which the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm representing the church, described as small and temporary.
However, the town of Gilbert, Arizona, issued multiple regulations for signs — restricting size, number, time length of display and location — with the restrictions varying based on the category and content of the sign.
Political, ideological and homeowners' association signs are exempt from these regulations, along with 23 other sign categories, which the Alliance Defending Freedom said "overtly singles out the church's religious speech for discriminatory treatment" in its case summary.
Pastor Clyde Reed challenged the ordinance after two citations from the compliance manager, who told the church there would be "no leniency under the code", according to the Supreme Court's issued opinion.
The court's opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, stated "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."
The town enacted a new, less-restrictive ordinance in 2011, Reuters reported.
“The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling is a victory for everyone’s freedom of speech," said ADF senior counsel David Cortman. "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.”