by Bob Smietana
A dispute over a church sign in Arizona made its way to the Supreme Court this past week.
At issue are the curbside signs Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, sets out before worship each week.
Gilbert officials cited the church for not taking the signs down within an hour of the end of worship services, according to Religion News Service. City officials also place limits on the size of the church signs.
But those time and size limits don’t apply to other temporary signs, like those for political campaigns or homes for sale. So the church sued the city of Gilbert seven years ago, in hopes of changing the rules.
The small congregation, which doesn’t have a building of its own, relies on the signs to point worshipers to their services.
Clyde Reed, pastor of Good News Community Church, says the rules aren’t fair to the church.
“Our town treats church signs differently than other types of signs,” Clyde Reed, pastor of Good News Community Church, told RNS. “Our signs inviting people to church are very important, yet are considered second-class speech.”
That’s unconstitutional, said David Cortman, senior counsel at Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, in oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week.
“No one’s speech is safe if the government is allowed to pick free-speech winners and losers based on the types of speech government officials prefer,” Cortman told justices.
City officials say the restrictions are needed to ensure that no one group dominates a public space.
“That means if you get a sign out there, the next person can’t, especially if we’re dealing with public property,” he said. “So it’s going to crowd out more people.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy was critical of the town’s rules, according to a report from NPR.
“It seems to me you are forcing us into making a very wooden distinction that could result in a proliferation of signs for birthday parties or for every conceivable event,” he said, adding that all these signs would be allowed to stay up for five months because political signs are allowed for that long.
Bob Smietana (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.Photo from Flickr by Richard Leonard