A small church in Arizona stood up to government discrimination and won a Supreme Court decision Thursday against local officials seeking to limit signs posted by the church.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in the court’s decision, said the town’s treatment of the church was a “paradigmatic example of content-based discrimination.”
The pastor of Good News Community Church had sued the town of Gilbert after being cited repeatedly for being out of compliance with the town’s sign restrictions. The church argued that its signs and messages were limited while other town displays were not, and the high court apparently agreed, according to The Arizona Republic.
According to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm representing the church, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can’t “play favorites when it comes to free speech.”
The battle began in 2005 when Gilbert cited the church for posting event messages too early and in the public right of way. Though the church complied by limiting the display time of its signs as well as their number, the problem persisted, according to the Blaze. The church was cited again in 2007 and, in a David vs. Goliath confrontation, decided to sue the town.
Presenting it as a clear case of discrimination, the church argued that while political signs were permitted to be up to 32 feet and on display for months, nonprofit signs advertising events were only allowed to be 6 square feet and limited to no more than 14 hours’ display, according to Alliance Defending Freedom.
The ruling overturned those codes.
In the decision, Thomas wrote that “[Gilbert] singles out specific subject matter for differential treatment, even if it does not target viewpoints within that subject matter.”
“Ideological messages are given more favorable treatment than messages concerning a political candidate, which are themselves given more favorable treatment than messages announcing an assembly of like-minded individuals,” he said.
According to ADF, the ruling sets boundaries on the government’s decisions about what kind of speech deserves greater protection under law.
ADF’s senior counsel, David Cortman, said, “The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling is a victory for everyone’s freedom of speech.”
“Speech discrimination is wrong regardless of whether the government intended to violate the First Amendment or not,” he continued. “And it doesn’t matter if the government thinks its discrimination was well-intended.”
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