A veteran pastor and Arizona town are squaring off in a Supreme Court case that will have big implications for free speech and religious liberty.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday for Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a case in which Good News Community Church in Arizona is fighting back against what they’re calling a discriminatory sign policy.
Gilbert has sign regulations in place that say how large temporary signs can be and how long they are allowed to remain posted. The problem is, those regulations vary depending on the content of the sign. Signs about religious events get stricter regulations, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, the group representing the church.
Good News Community Church moves locations often, so it uses signs to direct people to its services. When their signs were treated differently, they resorted to fighting it out in court.
Clyde Reed, the church’s pastor, is 82 years old and has been a pastor for over 40 years. He defended his church at a press conference after the oral arguments Monday.
“All we wanted to do was use temporary signs to welcome and invite the community to our Sunday morning services,” Reed said. “We aren’t asking for special treatment; we just want our town to stop favoring the speech of others over ours.”
Gilbert has strict sign regulations, but they affect different kinds of signs differently. Signs for religious events can be put up 12 hours in advance of the event and must be taken down within one hour after it is over, according to ADF. But political signs can stay up for months and ideological signs can stay up indefinitely.
The church’s main argument is that the government should not decide which types of speech are more important than others.
“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,” said ADF senior counsel David Cortman. “The Supreme Court has a long history of ensuring that the government treats all speech in a content-neutral manner. That’s why we trust the court will not allow the town of Gilbert to continue giving preferential treatment to certain messages while marginalizing others.”
Now that the debate is before the Supreme Court, Gilbert is arguing they are in the right.
“And in order to pass strict scrutiny, the legislatures in these towns and cities across this country would be inclined to ban all signs except those that the First Amendment absolutely allows,” said Philip Savrin, representing Gilbert at the oral arguments Monday.
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