Gilbert Violated Church’s First Amendment Rights

Today, the United States Supreme Court delivered a landmark win for free speech, ruling in favor of Pastor Clyde Reed in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Pastor Reed’s church filed suit against the town in 2007, arguing that the code – both as written and as applied to its signs – was an unconstitutional restriction on its First Amendment right to free speech.

The church rents space in temporary locations for its weekly service. It uses small, temporary signs to
invite and direct the community to its services. The Town of Gilbert Sign Code imposed strict limits on the size, location, number, and duration of the church’s signs. It does not impose the same restrictions on political, ideological, and homeowners’ association signs. Before this ruling, if the church violated the code, Pastor Reed could have been fined and possibly jailed.

The text of the town’s code regulated signs based on what they say, and the town is applyied the code in a manner that overtly singled out the church’s religious speech for discriminatory treatment.

The Court found that the town’s sign code, which generously permits an array of political, ideological, and other types of temporary signs, but severely restricts the size, location, duration, and number of signs like Pastor Reed’s inviting people to a church service, is content discrimination and violates free speech protections granted by the First Amendment.

While the town tried to justify its actions on the basis of aesthetics and safety, this argument failed because they restricted signs like Pastor Reed’s but not others.

David Cortman, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who argued the case stated, “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. It’s still government playing favorites, and that’s unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court today found.”

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