Monday, February 22, 2016

The Directions of Faith

In 2005, the town of Gilbert put a regulation into place the controlled which kind of signs could be shown in public areas. Most signs that were placed in public required a permit, but there were some exceptions to that case, such as signs that were ideological and noncommercial. Political signs were permissible as long as they were placed up to 60 days before a primary election and up to 15 days following a general election. The ideological signs could be twenty square feet and the political signs could be up to thirty-two feet at their largest. Temporary signs that gave directions to an event could be shown twelve hours before an event and one hour after the event, and could only be shown inside of private property. 
In 2008, the Good News Community Church, led by Pastor Clyde Reed, filed suit against the Town of Gilbert on a claim that the town “abridged their freedom of speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” The church was described by the Pastor as a “small, cash-strapped entity that owned no building”. The church did not own a primary physical place of worship but used local elementary schools to hold services, as well as other buildings in the town. The church was originally called the Good News Presbyterian Church because the name alternated between that and the Good News Community Church. The Court used the second name to describe the church because that name had been on the signs brought into question. The compliance manager who oversaw the sign code gave citations to the church twice for going over time limits and for not displaying the date of the event in question. Stricter regulations were used on the ideological messages because the Church could not afford more than temporary signs. 
The church filed suit in the district court for Arizona, and then at the Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit. The Appeals court followed the lead of the decision of the district court by deciding that the restrictions that the town placed upon temporary directional signs was not regulating content based speech. When taken to the Supreme Court, the court decided in a 9-0 decision that the rule that regulated signs in the town was unconstitutional. The court decided that the code restricted the use of signs for the chance that the sign contained a religious message. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that,  “Restrictions in the Sign Code that apply to any given sign [depend] entirely on the communicative content of the sign”. Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion that was joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kennedy that agreed largely with the majority opinion, but added that the Court would not be setting a precedence for preventing cities from regulating signs deemed helpful for the general populace. The other main concurring opinion was written by Justice Kagan and joined by Justices Bader Ginsburg and Breyer stating that the strict scrutiny in using the Supreme Court in this case ran the risk of having the highest court in the land become “a veritable Supreme Board of Sign Review”. 

I do not agree with the Court’s decision or with that fact that the case was brought to the Supreme Court. The case itself was not so blatantly a religious case that required the Supreme Court. The Church in question was described as a poor church and so could not afford the signs that could be placed for longer. Since the tighter restrictions were placed on the temporary signs that were free and that the Church used, the Church filed a suit. It is not clear enough that the regulations were obviously geared toward restricting ideological messages on the temporary signs. Other groups were allowed to use the temporary signs as well, which meant that the restrictions did not directly apply to the religious or ideological groups. Justice Thomas’ majority opinion came from the idea that the innocent motives of the town allowed for the potential of dangerous censorship by the government. I disagree in that I do not see a potential for increased censorship from this case as it appears to be a simple decision regarding a town’s basic regulations. 


Rosalie said...

I think that the court ruled correctly in this case. Had the church been promoting services on their property and followed the other restrictions set forth, they would have been allowed. However, because the church did not own a building, they were attempting to show church signs in public places. This is problematic because the implication of a church sign in a public building is that the government is funding it is certainly an establishment of religion. I do agree with you on one point though; this case shouldn't have made it to the SC because it is so clear that advertising religion in a public building, especially a school (~~~think of the children~~~), it is unconstitutional based on the establishment clause.

Caroline S. said...

I believe that the court ruled correctly in this case as well. I believe that the regulations were unconstitutional because they were disadvantaging a specific religion due to their lack of funds. The church was unable to comply with the specific guidelines because they could not afford temporary signs that could have date changes and other specifications required by the local government. I do not think that there was an "establishment" of religion because no one from the public schools was being forced to adhere to the Presbyterian Church teachings nor attend the assemblies. I have frequented several churches that did not have the funds for a standalone structure that used public buildings to hold their services. This option is open to all religious sects, not just the Presbyterians and I think that the economic problem should have allowed for an exception in this case- I was a little unclear on the court's ruling from this post, however I believe that they ruled the regulations unconstitutional.