Everyone is welcome at Good News Community Church.
Services are held Sundays. The Church encourages Christian fellowship through Bible study, religious song, and prayer. Its mission is outreach, inviting everyone into its community.As a fledgling congregation with limited financial means and no permanent location, the Church depends on sidewalk signs to spread word of events.
But in 2005, the town of Gilbert, Arizona, imposed strict regulations on the church’s signs, demanding they be no larger than six square feet and stand for no more than fourteen hours. Claiming safety and aesthetic concerns, the code threatens violators with fines and even jail time!
Yet political, ideological, and other noncommercial signs can be up to thirty-two square feet in size and can stand for many months—sometimes indefinitely.
Because the town’s ordinance regulates signs based on their content, resulting in disfavored treatment of the church’s signs, the ordinance is unconstitutional. Church Pastor Clyde Reed filed a lawsuit challenging the town’s discriminatory ordinance, but the Ninth Circuit ruled in the town’s favor, deeming political and ideological speech more valuable than the church’s religious speech.
Becket filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, supporting the Church and urging reversal of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. Local governments should not be permitted to impose regulations that favor some kinds of speech, while discriminating against religious speech. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case on January 12, 2015.
On June 18, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of Pastor Reed of Good News Community Church. The Court agreed with Becket’s argument that such discriminatory treatment is a violation of First Amendment rights and ruled that Gilbert’s sign ordinance violated the First Amendment because it showed no reason to justify discriminating against a house of worship’s speech. This landmark ruling means that the government must treat religious speech the same as political speech. Cities can’t treat churches as second-class citizens.