Justices appear to favor Gilbert church over sign law

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 1.37.18 PMThe Supreme Court on Monday appeared likely to side with a small church in its fight with a Phoenix suburb over limits on roadside signs directing people to Sunday services, reports Mark Sherman of The Associated Press.

Liberal and conservative justices alike expressed misgivings 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 (Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 13-502).

The Good News Community Church and Pastor Clyde Reed 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 directional signs can be no larger than 6 square feet. They must be placed in public areas no more than 12 hours before an event and removed within an hour of its end. Signs for political candidates, by contrast, can be up to 32 square feet and can remain in place for several months. Other ideological signs, including a message from a church welcoming people to its services without the pointing the way, can be as large as 20 square feet.

Less clear from the argument is whether the justices would use the case to make an important First Amendment ruling on the regulation of speech, or decide more narrowly in a way that affects the particular ordinance and not much else.

A decision is expected by June.

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