Little Church Bests Local Bureaucrats at Supreme Court

 

ReedChurchSign2In a unanimous decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that freedom of speech trumps the whims of local bureaucrats. Reed v. Town of Gilbert also provided a victory for religious expression as the plaintiff represents a small church in the Arizona community.

Clyde Reed is the pastor of Good News Community Church, a small Presbyterian congregation that uses innocuous temporary signs to advertise its weekly service. Since the church doesn’t own a building, it meets in various rented locations around Gilbert, a Phoenix suburb.

Reed ran afoul of ruler-toting compliance officers because the town specifically restricted the size, location, number, and duration of signs promoting “religious events.” Curiously, the Gilbert Sign Code is far more permissive of signs that are deemed ideological, political, or for homeowners’ associations.

With the help of the lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom, Reed sued the Town of Gilbert for discriminating against religious speech. It seems obvious the sign code violated the First Amendment but for some reason the town has been defending this provision in court since 2007.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court found that Gilbert’s Sign Code discriminated against certain content without any legitimate governmental interest. The high court threw out the test used by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to claim that Good News Community Church’s signs expressed a less valuable form of speech than a city councilmember seeking re-election or an HOA promoting a Friday fish fry.

“The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling is a victory for everyone’s freedom of speech,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the court in January. “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.”

“The government cannot target one form of speech with severe restrictions while allowing more speech for others in similar circumstances, which is what Gilbert’s ordinance did,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Furthermore, the courts cannot use a test that allows that discrimination to happen.”

Gilbert’s attorney, Michael Hamblin, released a terse statement that the town will amend their unconstitutional sign code. “Gilbert looks forward to the opportunity to review its own regulations to make necessary changes consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision,” Hamblin said, “and welcomes the opportunity for dialogue concerning the future of signage in the public’s right of way, including state mandated political signage.”

The fight over the sign code isn’t a case of runaway liberal governments trying to snuff out religion. Gilbert was recently ranked the ninth most conservative community in the U.S., has a prominent Catholic presence and a new Mormon temple. But petty rulemakers love to enforce their petty rules, even when they go against community sentiment. Perhaps Gilbert officials can take notes from their neighbor, Mesa, Ariz., which was named the most conservative city in the nation.

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  1. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Most judges would be red-faced in the extreme if their decision was reversed unanimously by the Supreme Court. I wonder if that is true of 9th circuit judges.

    Amazingly, the two judges who were reversed were Bush appointees while the dissenting judge, with whom the Supreme Court agreed, was an Obama appointee. Go figure.

    • #1
  2. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    That is what happens when you mess with God.

    • #2
  3. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    Shockingly, a 9th circuit decision is overturned.

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security 

    • #3
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    PHCheese:That is what happens when you mess with God.

    Yes, but why so subtle? Couldn’t He throw a bolt every now and then? ;-)

    • #4
  5. user_473455 Inactive
    user_473455
    @BenjaminGlaser

    Clyde is a minister in our denomination (the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) and a great guy. We prayed for this last week at our annual Synod meeting.

    Us Seceders are quite happy this week. :)

    • #5
  6. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Thanks for sharing this, Jon.

    • #6
  7. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Watch the town respond by severely limiting all signage now. A wounded bureaucrat is a wonder to behold.

    • #7
  8. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Next week, put out a humongous f***ing sign.

    • #8
  9. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    God bless the Alliance Defending Freedom.

    And thanks for posting this, Jon.

    • #9
  10. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    I’m sure the taxpayers of Gilbert appreciate the city pursuing this to the Supreme Court. Who’s paying the city’s legal bills?

    • #10
  11. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Good post.

    On a related note: Can we get Congress to create a new district court to remove the non-coastal states from the 9th? Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Alaska have very little in common with California. Let those liberal West coast states (and Hawaii) be on their own.

    • #11
  12. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    I’m starting to like Newt Gingrich’s idea of hauling judges before Congress for questioning (at least, I think that was his idea, I may not be remembering correctly).  If the lower courts are going to be pulling this crap than perhaps we should begin talking about revising the federal RFRA law.

    • #12
  13. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    I hope people will read the Court’s opinion now

    http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-502_9olb.pdf

    to get a primer on the law of strict scrutiny, rational basis, and government discrimination.  Because I have a strong suspicion that in a few weeks, those Constitutional principles are going to be a lot more unpopular around here than they are today.

    • #13
  14. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @JasonObermeyer

    Shorter Kagan/Ginsberg: “We agree, but we want to leave the door open to restricting speech when we want to.”

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @JasonObermeyer

    Eustace C. Scrubb:I’m sure the taxpayers of Gilbert appreciate the city pursuing this to the Supreme Court. Who’s paying the city’s legal bills?

    I don’t know if it is imprecise writing, but is also appears that the town of Gilbert employs an entire department dedicated to  the Sign Code lead by a “Sign Code compliance manager.”

    • #15
  16. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:But petty rulemakers love to enforce their petty rules, even when they go against community sentiment.

    Bingo. This supports my suspicion that the Nazi Party began as a Homeowner’s Association that got out of hand.

    • #16
  17. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    Douglas: Douglas Watch the town respond by severely limiting all signage now. A wounded bureaucrat is a wonder to behold.

    You’re such a cynic, Douglas.  I appreciate it, and I thank you sincerely for the tutoring.

    • #17
  18. user_57515 Member
    user_57515
    @TomDavis

    There is no passion like that of a functionary for his function.

    • #18
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